M. M. KALISCH, PH. D., M.A.






                                                      PART 1.


                                 THE PROPHECIES OF BALAAM

                                      (NUMBERS XXII. to XXIV)




                              THE HEBREW AND THE HEATHEN.











                                    LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.


                                                    Public Domain 

                                    Digitized by Ted Hildebrandt 2004





ALMOST immediately after the completion of the fourth

volume of his Commentary on the Old Testament, in

1872, the author was seized with a severe and lingering

illness. The keen pain he felt at the compulsory  interrup-          

tion of his work was solely relieved by the undiminished

interest with which he was able to follow the widely ram-

ified literature connected with his favourite studies. At

length, after weary years of patience and ‘hope deferred,’ a

moderate measure of strength seemed to return, inadequate

indeed to a resumption of his principal task in its full ex-

tent, yet, sufficient, it appeared, to warrant, an attempt at

elucidating some of those, numerous problems of Biblical

criticism and religious history, which are still awaiting a

final solution. Acting, therefore, on the maxim, ‘Est

quadam prodire tenus, si non datur ultra,’ and stim-

lated by the desire of contributing his humble share to

the great intellectual labour of our age, he selected, as a

first effort after his partial recovery, the interpretation of

that exquisite episode in the Book of Numbers which

contains an account of Balaam and his prophecies. This

section), complete in itself, discloses a deep insight into

the nature and course of prophetic influence; implies

most instructive hints for the knowledge of Hebrew

doctrine; and is one of the choicest, master-pieces of

universal literature.  Love of such a subject could not

fail to uphold even a wavering, strength, and to revive an



often drooping courage.   The author is indebted to these

pursuits for many hours of the highest enjoyment, and

he feels compelled to express his profound for gratitude for

having been permitted to accomplish even this modest

enterprise. If strength be granted to him, he anxious,

in continuation of the same important enquiry, still

further to elucidate the mutual relation, according to the

Scriptures and the Jewish writings, between the Hebrew

and the Heathen, by commenting on the Book of Jonah,

of which he proposes to treat in a Second Part of these

Bible Studies.

            The author would fain hope that the main portions of

the work may be found of some interest not only to

theologians and Biblical students, but to a wider circle

of readers, since the possibility of a general diffusion of

critical or historical results is the only decisive test of

their value.

            In the Translation and the Commentary he has ad-

hered to the same principles which guided him in his

previous volumes, and for the convenience of Hebrew

scholars he has here also inserted the original Text.

            Although he has neglected no available source of in-

formation, and has endeavoured to utilise, for the illustra-

tion of his subject, both the most ancient traditions and

the most recent discoveries and researches, he is well

aware how much his effort stands in need of indulgence 

but he believes that he will not appeal in vain to the

forbearance of those who realise the impediments and

difficulties under which he has laboured.


                                                                        M. KALISCH.

London, August, 1877





            TREATISE                                                                                                      1

            1.         Summary                                                                                            1

            2.         Uncertain Traditions                                                                         3

            3.         The Character of Balaam                                                                  7

            4.         Balaam’s Religion                                                                             11

            5.         The God of Balak                                                                              13

            6.         Balaam the Prophet                                                                           16

            7.         Misrepresentations                                                                           22

                           The New Testament and Balaam                                       22

                           Josephus and Balaam                                                                     23

                           Philo and Balaam                                                                            25

                           Jewish Tradition and Balaam                                                         27

            8.         Deterioration                                                                                     34

            9.         Conclusions                                                                                       38

            10.       The Orginal Book of Balaam                                                            40

            11.       The Date of the Composition                                                           42

            12.       The Author                                                                                         51

            13.       Balaam’s Identity                                                                               52

            14.       Israel and the Book of Balaam                                                         56

            15.       Analogy of the Book of Ruth                                                           58

            16.       Fame and Character of the Book                                                     61

            17.       Limits                                                                                                 64

            18.       Israel and Moab                                                                                 68



            XXIV                                                                                                              73

            1          Introduction. xxii.                                                                             73

            2.         Councils  xxii. 2-4                                                                            83

            3.         First Message  xxii. 5-14                                                                 96

            4.         Second Message. xxii. 15-21                                                           116

            5.         The Journey   xxii. 22-35                                                                 124

viii       CONTENTS.



            6.         Arrival and Reception. xxii. 36-40.                                     152

            7.         Preparations. xxii. 41-xxiii. 6                                                          159

            8.         Balaam's First Speech. xxiii. 7-10                                                   171

            9.         Remonstrances and New Preparations. xxiii. 11-17                      185

            10.       Balaam's Second Speech. xxiii. 18-24                                            191

            11.       Again Remonstrances and Preparations. xxiii. 25-xxiv.    211

            12.       Balaam's Third Speech. xxiv. 3-9                                                     220

            13.       Balak’s Anger and Balaam's Reply. xxiv. 10-14                             242

            14.       Balaam's Prophecy on Moab. xxiv. 15-17  .                                   248

            15.       SUPPLEMENTS. xxiv. 18-24                                                          263

            16.       Prophecy on Edom. xxiv. 18, 19                                                      268

            17.       Prophecy on the Amalekites. xxiv. 20                                             277

            18.       Prophecy on the Kenites. xxiv. 21, 22                                            282

            19.       Prophecy on Assyria. xxiv. 23, 24                                                   291

            20.       Conclusion. xxiv. 25                                                             304










                                    1. SUMMARY.


The contents of that portion of the Book of Numbers     

which we propose to examine, may be thus briefly sum-


            On their way from Egypt into Canaan, in the

fortieth year of their wanderings, the Hebrews had ad-

vanced to the plains of Moab, on the east of the Jordan.a

Alarmed by the proximity of such large hosts, which had

just discomfited powerful opponents in the same districts,

Balak, the king of Moab, after deliberating with the

chiefs of Midian, resolved to summon, from Pethor on

the Euphrates, the far-famed Balaam, the son of Beor,    

and to request hint to pronounce upon the Israelites

a curse, by virtue of which he hoped to vanquish them

in the expected conflict.b When the elders of Moab and

Midian, who were selected as envoys, had arrived at

Pethor and delivered their errand, Balaam bid them stay,

till he had ascertained the will of God; and when he learnt,

through a vision, that God disapproved of the journey

and the curse, since the Israelites were a blessed nation,

he declined to accompany the messengers.c On bearing

their reply, Balak sent a second and still more weighty

embassy, promising Balaam the highest distinctions       

and rewards, if he yielded to his wishes. But Balaam       

declared to the nobles, that no treasures or honours,


                a Num. xxii, 1.            b Vers. 2-6.                 c Vers. 7-13


2                                  SUMMARY.


however splendid, could induce him to act against the

command of God, whom, therefore, he would again con-

sult. This time he received permission to proceed to

Moab, on condition, however, that he should strictly

adhere to God's suggestions; after which he entered

upon the journey together with the ambassadors.a

            Yet when he had set out, God was greatly displeased,

and sent His angel with a drawn sword to oppose him.

The prophet's ass, but not the prophet himself, beheld

the Divine apparition. The terrified animal first retreated

from the road into the field; next pressed, in anguish and

perplexity, against a vineyard wall in a narrow path;

and at last, unable to withdraw either to the right or

the left, fell down on the ground, all this time angrily

beaten by the vexed rider. 'Then the Lord opened the

mouth of the ass,' who complained to Balaam of his

harshness, and reminded him that she had never before

behaved so strangely. ‘Then the Lord opened the eyes

of Balaam,’ and the angel, now perceived by the seer,

rebuked him for his cruel treatment of the faithful beast,

and declared that he had come to resist the journey, since

he deemed it pernicious. Balaam, mortified and penitent,

readily offered to return, but the angel commanded him

to go with the ambassadors, yet scrupulously to abstain

from saying anything but what the Lord should prompt.b

On the frontier of Moab, Balaam was met by Balak,

to whom he announced at once that he could speak

nothing of his own mind, but was bound to obey the

voice of God alone.c Hospitable entertainments followed;

preparations were made for the prophecies; and then,

standing on an elevation, from where a part of the

Hebrew people could be surveyed, Balaam, in the pre-


   a xxii. 14-21.           b Vers. 22-36.            c Vers. 36-38.

                        UNCERTAIN TRADITIONS.                       3


sence of Balak and his chiefs, uttered a speech, inspired

by God, in which he extolled Israel as a nation beloved

and specially elected by the Eternal, exceedingly nume-

rous, and happy through righteousness.a The annoyed

king took Balaam to another place where, after due

preliminaries, the prophet pronounced a second Divine

oracle, affirming that the blessing once bestowed on Israel

was irrevocable, since they were a pious people guided

by the Lord, victorious by their prowess, and inapproach-

able in their strength.b  Balak, troubled and amazed,

once more made a determined attempt, but again Balaam

proclaimed the praises of Israel, glorifying the beauty, ex-

tent, and fertility of their land, the prosperity and splen-

dour of their empire, and the terrible disasters they in-

flicted upon their enemies.c In pain and rage, Balak now

commanded the seer forthwith to flee to his own country.

But before departing, Balaam spontaneously added a

prophecy foreshadowing the subjugation of Moab herself

by an illustrious king of the Israelites;d and to this he

joined, moreover, oracles on the future destinies of the

Hebrews in connection with Edom and Amalek, the

Kenites and the Assyrians.e Then Balaam and Balak

separated, each returning to his home.f


                        2. UNCERTAIN TRADITIONS.

IT is necessary for our purpose to notice the other Biblical

accounts with respect to Balaam, and, first of all, to

consider the following passage of Deuteronomy:g  'An

Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter into the con- 

gregation of the Lord . . . because they did not meet


   a xxii. 39-xxiii. 10.             d Vers. 10-17.            f Ver. 25.

   b Vers. 11--24.                    e Vers. 18-24,                        g Deut. xxiii. 4-6,

   c xxiii. 25--xxiy. 9,

4                      UNCERTAIN TRADITIONS.


you with bread and with water on the way, when you

came forth out of Egypt, and because he (the Moabite)

hired against thee Balaam, the son of Beor, of Pethor in

Mesopotamia, to curse thee. But the Lord thy God

would not listen to Balaam, and turned the curse into a

blessing for thee, because He loves thee.'a Hence the

Deuteronomist evidently followed a tradition very differ-

ent from that embodied in the narrative of Numbers.

According to the former, Balaam, when ‘hired’ to curse

Israel, really pronounced curses which, however, God, in

His merciful love of Israel, disregarded, and, annulling

their intended effect, transformed into benedictions; in

correspondence with which, Nehemiah, quoting and

epitomising Deuteronomy, records that ‘The Moabite

hired Balaam against Israel, to curse them, but our God

turned the curse into a blessing.’b  A process so indirect

and artificial is wholly at variance with the plain sim-

plicity of the story before us. Here Balaam never

evinced the least disposition or made the slightest

attempt to hazard execrations which levelled against

the elect of God, would have been hardly less than

blasphemous. Nor did he allow himself to be ‘hired’ in

the sense in which Balak wished to engage him; but he

submitted unconditionally to the direction of the Lord,

who would not permit an alien to call down upon His  

people imprecations, however empty and transitory.

Micah, living in the eighth century B.C., alludes to the

tradition concerning Balaam in a context, which leaves

no doubt as to its spirit and tendency. For among the


a The change from the plural                        for regarding, with some critics, the

(vmdq) to the singular (rbw), with-           second part of verse 5, like the

out the introduction of a new sub-              following verse, as a fragmentary

jeet, is indeed strange and incon-                addition.

gruous, but hardly a sufficient reason         b Neh. xiii. 2.

                        UNCERTAIN TRADITIONS.                       5


signal favours bestowed by God upon His people, as their

deliverance from Egyptian slavery and their safe guidance

under leaders like Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, the prophet

mentions this also: ‘0 my people, remember now, what

Balak, king of Moab, schemed, and what Balaam, the son

of Beor, answered him . . . in order that you may know

the kindness of the Lord.'a Balaam's ‘answers’ manifestly

did not satisfy the king; they were blessings and praises

of the Hebrews; and Micah is, therefore, in harmony

with Numbers, not with Deuteronomy.

            We come to another point, in which tradition wavered.

The Book of Joshua, closely connected with Deuteronomy,

states that Balak actually ‘waged war against Israel.’b

But the Book of Judges writes distinctly, ‘Did Balak,

the son of Zippor, king of Moab, strive against Israel?

did he fight against them?c And so, according to Num-

bers likewise, Balak's sole enterprise against Israel was

his employment of Balaam. For, however eager he might

have been to expel the dangerous invaders by resolute

combat,d he desisted from the hopeless struggle when Ba-

laam's co-operation had proved fallacious. Our account

concludes with the words, ‘And Balaam rose and went

away and returned to his place, and Balak also went his

way;’e and soon afterwards we find the Hebrews and

Moabites not merely living in peace but in friendship,


a Mic. vi. 5. By a strange mis-                      Aaron);' or, 'not with the sword,

conception, many (as Bishop Butler,          but by imprecations' (Keil), which

Lowth, and others) understood this             'the writer calls war' (Rosennmeller);

passage in Micah (vi. 5-8) as 'a                    or, 'he showed a hostile feeling'

dialogue between Balaam and Balak.'          (Biur and others); and it is gra-

b Josh. xxiv. 9, lxrwyb MHlyv,                  tuitous to assume 'small attacks'

which cannot mean, 'he intended to             (Knobel), of which no mention is

wage war, the intention being deemed         made in the Old Testament.

equivalent to the deed' (Kimchi);                            c Judg. xi. 25.

or, ' he fought by counsels and stra-                        d Num. xxii. 6, 11.

tagems' (Kether Torah of Rabbi                              e xxiv. 2.5; see notes in loc.

6                      UNCERTAIN TRADITIONS.


and readily exchanging their religious views and prac-


            But the most important fluctuation is the follow-

ing. The Book of Joshuab clearly describes Balaam as a

‘soothsayer’ (MseOq), and adds, moreover, that he was,

among other enemies, slain by the Hebrews in their war

against the Midianites, on whose side he fought. A sub-

sequent portion of the Book of Numbers not only repeats

this latter statement, but charges Balaam, besides, with

the heinous crime of having, by infamous counsels,

enticed the Israelites to the grossly licentious worship of

Baal-Peor, and of having thus caused a fearful plague,

which fell upon the people as a Divine chastisement.c It

was naturally, and perhaps excusably, supposed that, in

the section under consideration, Balaam is regarded in the

same light--namely, as a common magician and a fiendish

tempter; and starting from this view, theologians and

interpreters, in ancient and modern times, have drawn a

picture of Balaam's character which is truly awful.

There is hardly a vice which they did not think themselves

justified in attributing to him. They uniformly dis-

covered that our author represented the foreign seer, above

all, as swayed by the two master passions of ambition and

avarice to a degree almost amounting to actual madness.d          

But in delineating his other numerous blemishes, they

differed very considerably. They variously described


   a xxv. 1-4. The words in the                       either mean that the curses pro-

Book of Joshua, which follow upon            nounced by Balaam were turned

those above referred to, although pro-        into blessings, or that he indeed pro-

bably coinciding with the conception          nounced curses, but was also com-

of Deuteronomy, fvmwl ytybx xlv   pelled to utter blessings.

Mktx jvrb jrbyv Mflbl (Josh.                      b xiii. 22.

xxiv. 10), may yet be considered as             c xxxi. 8, 16; comp. xxv. 1-9.

forming a transition to that of Num-                       d Freely applying to him the line

bers with respect to the first discre-           of Sophocles: To> mantiko>n ga>r pa?n

panty pointed out; for they may                   fila<rguron ge<noj (Ant. 1055).

                        THE CHARACTER OF BALAAM.  7


him as proud, insolent, and inflated, and yet cunning

and hypocritical; as false and ungrateful; mendacious

and treacherous; wavering, yet obstinate; diabolically

wicked and mischievous; the primary type of all artful

seducers of God's people; cruel and passionate; a sordid

trader in prophecy and a mercenary impostor--the Simon

Magus of the Old Testament; a sacrilegious trickster

and blasphemous dissembler; an unhallowed idolater

and a lying sorcerer; a profane reviler and sanctimonious

scoffer.a  Indeed not a few writers have produced veri-

table masterpieces of exegetical ingenuity.b

            Justice, however, requires that, before expressing a

decisive opinion, we should at least endeavour to under-

stand this narrative by itself and apart from other

Biblical notices. This ‘Book of Balaam’--as we shall

henceforth briefly call it--is in every way complete. It

is pervaded by religious and historical conceptions pre-

senting the most perfect unity. We shall, therefore, try

to reproduce the figure of Balaam from this portion with

all possible fidelity.




THE key to Balaam's whole conduct lies in the words,

‘I cannot go against the command of the Lord to do

either good or bad of my own mind.’c The same signi-

ficant term 'of my own mind,' is, in the Pentateuch,

employed on another and no less remarkable occasion.

When Moses announced the miraculous punishment to


a This florilegium--which is only                b As Calvin, Michaelis, Hengsten-

a short specimen--has not been com-         berg, Baumgarten, Kurtz, Keil,

piled at random, but we could quote            Reinke, Lange, Koehler, and others

authorities of repute for each indivi-          who have influenced the interpreta-

dual epithet, and shall hereafter have           tion of these chapters.

occasion to do so to some extent.               c yBli.mi, xxiv. 13.




be inflicted upon Korah and his associates, he said

‘Hereby you shall know, that the Lord has sent me to

do all these works, and that I have not done them of my

own mind.’a  As Moses is the mouthpiece of God's behests

and His instrument, so is Balaam. The greatest of the

Hebrew prophets and the heathen seer here introduced

are equals in this cardinal point, that all they say and do

is not ordinary human speech and deed, but the expres-

sion of the Divine will, which, renouncing their own

volition, they are ready or compelled to obey.b Can a

stronger proof than this parallel be conceived of the high

position and dignity which the author assigns to Balaam?

From this central view everything else is easily surveyed

and illustrated. Never, under any circumstances, does

Balaam forget that he has no independent power, but

that he is the servant of God, whose visions he beholds

and whose spirit comes upon him, whose direction he seeks

and whose revelations he utters.c

            Balak's messengers arrive, and, in accordance with

custom, bring him rewards for his expected services as

an enchanter. But neither does the royal embassy, con-

sisting of the chiefs of two nations, flatter his ambition,

nor do the presents, no doubt considerable, tempt him

into covetousness. When he hears the king's request, he

represses both his inclination and his judgment. Not

even by the slightest allusion are we informed to which

side that personal disposition was leaning, since it is of

no consequence or importance whatever. Declining to

return an answer on his own account, he asks the

messengers to wait till he has ascertained the Divine

will, and when God commands him not to go to Moab to


   a yBil.imi, Num. xvi. 28; comp.                    c xxii. 18, 19, 38; xxiii. 3-5, 12,

Jude 11.                                                          15, 16, 26; xxiv. 4,13,16: which

   b See Comm. on Lev. vol. i. p. 706.          passages are distinct and emphatic.

            THE CHARACTER OF BALAAM.              9


curse the Hebrews, he simply communicates to the

envoys this injunction, which to him is final.a

            Ere long, he is visited by a second and still more

brilliant embassy, empowered to make, in the king's

name, the most alluring offers: ‘I will honour thee

greatly, and whatever thou sayest to me that I will do’b

--offers of a kind which it is almost beyond human

nature to regard with indifference, and which only the

rarest force of character can succeed in resisting. But

Balaam remains unshaken. He may, indeed, for a  

moment, have been agitated by an inward struggle,

which the author, with the subtlest psychological art,

intimates by Balaam's hyperbolical declaration, that not

even the king's ‘house full of gold and silver' could alter

his resolution. But the temptation is no sooner felt than

it is warded off, and for ever banished from his heart.

He protests with greater decision than before, that he

‘cannot go against the commandment of the Lord to do a

small or great thing,’c and only after having received

God's distinct permission, does he consent to accompany

the princes to Moab.d

            Balak, ready to prove that he had not spoken empty

words when he promised to Balaam the highest honours,

goes out to meet him at the frontier of his kingdom.e

But undazzled by this distinction, most flattering ac-

cording to Eastern notions,f the prophet courageously

and almost bluntly warns the anxiously expectant king

against too confident hopes.  For, without speculating

whether God's repeal of the previous prohibition of the

journey involved or foreshadowed also a repeal of the

prohibition of the curse, he tells Balak: ‘Behold, I am


    a xxii. 8, 12, 13.     b  Ver. 17.                   will soon be apparent; see infra,

   c Ver. 18.               d  Ver. 20.                    sect. 'Original Form.'

   e Ver. 36. In this survey, we pass      f Comp. Gen. xxix. 13; xlvi. 29;

over xxii. 22-35, for reasons which            Exod. xviii. 7, etc.



come to thee; have I now any power at all to say

anything? the word that God puts in my mouth, that I

shall speak.'a The next day, after having duly prepared

himself, he awaits the Divine inspiration,b and having

obtained it, he joins Balak, who, surrounded by his

nobles, was standing at the altar and his sacrifices; and

here he announces, in enthusiastic speech and without fear

or hesitation, the direct opposite of what the king, as he

well knew, expected of him and longed to hear.c  He

meets Balak's indignant remonstrances again merely by

affirming that he dare not contravene the commands of

God.d A never appeal for Divine direction results in similar

utterances, followed by the same reproofs and the same

unflinching confessions.e A third attempt differs from

the former transactions only in this point, that Balaam no

more goes out to secure a special revelation. For he is

now certain that 'it pleases God to bless Israel.' He is

convinced that he may safely surrender himself to the

impulse of the moment. Indeed, when he beholds the

vast camp of the Israelites stretched out before his view,

he exalts their prosperity and power, their fame and

triumphs, with a solemnity and fervour he had not even

attained before; and he concludes with declaring, that if

anyone should presume to curse Israel, it is on himself

that the curse would recoil.f The king, struck by the

pointed and ominous allusion, listens to those bursts of

prophetic fire with increasing rage and consternation;

but Balaam remains calm and unawed. He is now a

hateful guest in Moab, and is bidden to 'escape;' but,

regardless of the danger to which he exposes himself, he

not only, with imperturbable tranquillity, reminds the


            a xxii. 38.        c Vers. 7-10.              e Vers. 15, 16, 25, 26.

            b xxiii. 3.        d Ver. 12.                    f xxiv. 1-9.

                        BALAAM'S RELIGION.                   11


monarch of his former assurance, that not even all the

golden treasures of a palace could move him to utter

oracles ‘of his own mind,’a but, rising to new enthusiasm,

he announces to Balak, unrequested, the future fate of

his own land, proclaiming that, like many other kingdoms,

it was doomed to be subdued and crushed by the very

people which, at that moment, was causing him dread and

horror.b And then the author concludes his account of

the seer, simply and quietly, ‘And Balaam rose and went

away and returned to his place.’c

            It would not be easy to find, in the epic compositions

of any country, a delineation of character more clear or

more consistent than that of Balaam in this incomparable

section. Firm and inexorable like eternal Fate, he regards

himself solely as an instrument of that Omnipotence,

which guides the destinies of nations by its unerring

wisdom. Free from all human passion and almost from

all human emotion, he is like a mysterious spirit from a

higher and nobler world, which looks upon the fortunes

of the children of men with an immovable and sublime



                        4. BALAAM'S RELIGION.


            To test and to confirm this view, it will be desirable to

enquire whether Balaam is, in this portion, portrayed

as a true Hebrew prophet, or whether and in what re-

spects he is marked as a heathen.

            First, it is important to notice, that the God of Balaam

is undoubtedly the God of the Hebrews. He is intro-

duced with nearly all His Biblical names--Jahveh,

Elohim, El, Shaddai, Elyon--and no other deity is men-


   a xxiv. 12, 13.                                              c Ver. 25.--The passage xxiv.

   b Vers. 14-17.                                              18-24 must here also be excluded.

12                    BALAAM’S RELIGION.


tioned throughout the entire Book. The most frequent

by far is the appellation of Jahveh (hvhy), and it is not a

little significant that Balaam uses predominantly that

holy and specifically Hebrew name of Revelation and the

Covenant, both in the narrative and in prophetic speech;a

a few times only he employs El and once, respec-

tively, Elohim (Myhilox<), Shaddai (yDawa), and Elyon (NOyl;f,).c

Wherever the author relates in his own name, Jahveh

and Elohim are introduced promiscuously;d but it would

not be possible, without resorting to artificial expedients,

to establish a principle and design in this change or

alternation. For as Jahveh puts the words into the

seer's mouth and grants him revelations,e so does Elohim,f

whose ‘spirit comes upon Balaam.’g  It is true that, in

the account of the first embassy, Elohim is, with remark-

able uniformity, used by the author, and Jahveh by

Balaam; "but this affords only a new and striking proof

of the, writer's art and care, who desired to impart to

the prophet's speech the most solemn emphasis possible,


   a xxii. 8, 13, 18, 19; xxiii. 3, 8,                 xxiv. 1; the latter in xxii. 9, 20;

12, 21, 26; xxiv. 6, 13.                                  xxiii. 4 ; xxiv. 3.

   b xxiii. 8,, 19, 23; xxiv. 4, 8, 16,                   e xxiii. 5, 16.

24.                                                                      f xxii. 9, 20, 38; xxiii. 4.

  c xxii. 38 ; xxiv. 8, 16; comp.                         g xxiv. 3.--Particularly instruc.

xxiii. 21. How can we suppress                    tive is xxiii. 3-5: Balaam expects,

a feeling of astonishment at finding,           that hvhy will meet him (ver. 3), in

that this very circumstance--the                  reality he is met by Myhlx (ver. 4),

constant use by Balaam of the name            and hvhy suggests to him the pro-

of Jahveh--has been urged as a con-            phecy (ver. 5). The distinctions

clusive proof of Balaam's sanctimony        that have been attempted (Heng-

and arrogance, of his frauds and                   stenb. 1. c. pp. 409-411; Baur,

selfish wiles' (Hengstenberg, Authen-        Alttestamentliche Weissagung, etc.,

tie des Pentateucbs, i. 407, 411;                  i. 334; Ewald, Jabrbuecher, viii. p.

similarly Baumyarten, Reinke, Bei-            18; Keil, Commentar zu Numeri, p.

traege, iv. 227; comp., however,                  297, etc.) are not satisfactory or con-

Staehelin, Kritische Untersuchun-              vincing.

gen, pp. 36, 37.)                                                h xxii. 9, 10, 12, 20; and vers. 8,

d The former in xxiii. 6, 16;              13, 18, 19.

                        THE GOD OF BALAK.                    13


while preserving the greatest simplicity in his own

words.a But we are not left to deduce, from uncertain

inference, that the God of Balaam is no other than the

God of Israel, the Eternal, the Unchangeable. This is

unmistakeably expressed. Balaam speaks of Jahveh as

‘my God,’b just as he says with reference to Israel, that

Jahveh is ‘his God;’c and that term 'Jahveh my God 'd

is not 'merely the Hebrew designation of Balaam's

monotheism,'e but involves and demonstrates the absolute

identity of Balaam's monotheism and that of Israel.f


                        5. THE GOD OF BALAK.


A CLEAR light is thrown upon the subject by considering

it in conjunction with Balalc's religious notions.

            The king sends messengers to the seer with the gene-

ral charge to come and curse the Hebrews.9 He does not

specify the deity in whose name he desires the curse to


   a By what perversion of judgment,              e  vyhAlox< xxiii. 21; comp. 1 Ki.

was it possible to discover in this                xviii. 39, Myhlx xvh hvhy; Ps.

circumstance also 'a silent accusation        vii. 2, 4; xviii,. 7, 29; Hos. ii. 25;

of hypocrisy against Balaam, who so          viii. 2; Zechar. xiii. 9, etc.

boastfully spoke of his Jehovah (der              d yhAlox< hOAhy;

sich mit seinem Jehova so breit                      e Knobel, Numeri erklart, p. 131.

machte), constantly crying Ku<rie                  f It is, therefore, not sufficient to

Ku<rie, although in reality he was                say, that 'Balaam's religion was

only in connection with Elobim.'!                probably such as would be the na-

(Hengstenb. 1. c. pp.409, 411; Lange,        tural result of a general acquaint-

Bibelwerk, ii. 308, 311, 'an ostenta-           ante with God not confirmed by any

tiously displayed belief in Jehova...             covenant' (Smith, Dictionary of the if he knew the God of salva-                 Bible,i. 163): Balaam's acquaintance

tion.' In the passage xxii. 22-35                   with God was precisely that pos-

also,the name hvhy prevails, whether          sessed by the highest minds among

Jahveh Himself (vers. 28, 31) or,                the Hebrews in the author's time.--

more frequently, the 'angel of                      About the question, how the Meso-

Jahveh' (vers. 22-27, 31, 32, 34,                  potamian Balaam obtained a know-

35), while Myhlx occurs but once ledge of Jahveh as the God of the

(ver. 22).                                                        Hebrews, see notes on xxii. 5-14.

   b yhAlox< xxii. 18.                                             g xxii. 5, 6.

14                    THE GOD OF BALAK.


be pronounced. It is enough for him to know that

Balaam's blessing and curse are potent and irresistible.

Does he, in the author's view, mean the God of the

Hebrews and Him alone? This cannot be assumed; for

if he had deemed this point essential, he would not have

failed to insist upon it in his explicit message. He

evidently knew nothing of Jahveh, or he did not heed Him.

He had heard of the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt,

but he speaks of their deliverance as of an ordinary

event, without alluding to Jahveh's assistance or inter-

ventiona--in striking contrast to Balaam, who repeatedly

attributes it to the power and mercy of Israel's God.b

How should he indeed expect an efficient execration from

a soothsayer inspired by a strange god against his own

chosen people? When Balaam, following the Divine

directions, announced to the elders of Moab, ‘The Lord

(hvhy) refuses to give me leave to go with you;'c in what

form did the elders bring back this answer to Balak?

They simply said, 'Balaam refuses to come with us.’d

They omitted to mention Jahveh, obviously because to

them and to the king He was an unfamiliar god. If

Balak had specially desired that the Hebrews should be

cursed in the name of Jahveh, it would have been of the

utmost importance to him to learn that it was Jahveh

Himself who forbade Balaam to journey forth. But the

envoys and the monarch alike were concerned about

nothing except the bare fact of Balaam's non-compliance.

            The second embassy was despatched with the same

indefinite message, no particular god being named.e

However, when Balaam at last arrived in Moab, he said

to the king, ‘I will go perhaps the Lord (hvhy) will


   a xxii. 5.                                                       c xxii. 13.

   b xxiii. 22; xxiv. 8; see notes on                d Ver. 14.

xxii. 5-14.                                                      e xxii, 15-17,

                        THE GOD OF BALAK.                                15


come to meet me; and whatsoever He will show me, I

will tell thee.'a Then was Balak, for the first time, made

clearly aware that Balaam was in the service of Jahveh,

and then he might easily have informed himself about

His nature and His relation to Israel. Again and again,

he thenceforth heard the same name from Balaam's

mouth, both in the interviews and the prophetic speeches;b

and when he, therefore, saw Balaarn the second time re-

turn, prepared for uttering an oracle, he asked, in anxious

suspense, ‘What has the Lord (hvhy) spoken?’c He had

learnt, that it was from Jahveh, the God of the terrible

Hebrews, that he must expect his safety or destruction.

But he had also learnt, that this Jahveh is the God or

Elohim;d and, consequently, when he requested Balaam

to make a new attempt in another place, he added, ‘Per-

haps it will please Ha-Elohim, that thou mayest curse

me them from there.'e Yet when, this time also, Balaam

pronounced a blessing and not a curse, the frenzied king,

dismissing the prophet from his presence, exclaimed,’—‘I

thought to honour thee, but, behold, the Lord (hvhy) has

kept thee back from honour'f thus mingling with

his rage a derisive sarcasm, taunting Balaam's God as

delighting to deprive of honours and rewards His most

scrupulous worshippers; and with those defiant words,

Balak, the type of blind and worldly paganism, so skil-

fully placed in juxtaposition to Balaam, for ever discards

that Jahveh, to whom he had turned for a moment

through fear and selfishness.g


a xxiii. 3.                                             will be more fully unfolded in the

b Vers. 8, 12.                                      Commentary. Even Jewish tradition

e Ver. 17.                                            admits, that Balak was a more su-

d xxii. 38; comp. xxiii. 21.                perstitious idolater than Balaam;

e xxiii. 27.                                           Midrash Rabb. Num. xx. 7,  hyh qlb

f xxiv. 11.                                            Mlfbm rtvy wHn lfbv Mymsq lfb

g Balak's disposition and views         xmvsk vyrHx jwmn hyhw.



                        6.  BALAAM THE PROPHET.       


WE shall approach still nearer to a right estimate of

Balaam's character by enquiring how he received

Jahveh's revelations--whether in the manner of Hebrew

prophecy or in connection with heathen rites?

            When Balaam hears, from the first ambassadors, the

king's demand, he desires them to remain till the next

morning, and promises a reply in accordance with God's

injunction.a He is, therefore, sure of a Divine communi-

cation. How is it conveyed? Certainly in the night--as

is not only clear from the context, but is expressed in dis-

tinct terms;b and evidently in sleep, for God orders Balaam,

‘Rise and go with the men,’ after which the author adds,--

'And Balaam rose in the morning ... and went with the

princes of Moab.'c He received, therefore, his communi-

cations in dream visions, and these were deemed by the 

Hebrews one of the legitimate and valued modes of

Divine revelation.d Again, God speaks to Balaam, and

Balaam speaks to God;e He ‘shows him’ words,’f puts

words into his mouth,'g or gives him 'commands;'h in

fact ‘the spirit of God comes upon Balaam;’i phrases

which we find constantly applied in the Old Testament to

the true seers of Israel.k  Balaam's speech or address is

indeed, on account of its poetical character, generally


   a xxii. 8.                                                       h xxii. 18; xxiv. 13.

   b Ver. 20.                                                     i xxiv. 2 ; see notes in loc.

   c Vers. 20, 21.                                             k Comp. Deut. xviii. 18; 2 Sam.

   d Num. xii. 6 ; Gen. xx. 3; xxxi.                 xxiii. 2 ; Isai. li. 16; lix. 21; Jer.

11, 24; xlvi. 2; Job iv. 13-16,                       i. 9; Ezek, xxxiii. 7, etc. Balaam,

etc.; see Commentary on Genesis,              says Lange (Bibelwerk, ii. 309),

pp. 608, 640.                                                  with a refinement we are unable to

   e xxii. 8-12, 19, 20; xxiii. 26.                    realise, had ‘Verkehr’ with God, but

   f xxiii.                                                          not 'Umgang:' the distinction is

   g xxii. 38; xxiii. 5, 12, 16.                          certainly not essential.

                        BALAAM USE PROPHET.  17


designated as ‘parable,’a but also as ‘Words of God,’b or

simply ‘utterance’c of Balaam, which is the specific term

for prophetic communication.d

            However, some circumstances are mentioned which

seem at least doubtful. We may here briefly pass over

the fact that the king sent Balaam ‘wages’ or ‘rewards of

divination.’e Supposing even that Balaam accepted them,

he deserves no censure. For according to the notions of

those times, no one ever consulted a seer without offering

him a present, either in money or provisions, although

the most trifling gift contented the simplicity of Hebrew

prophets,f and the assertiong that the ‘men of God’ did

not receive or take such presents is unfounded, though

in some cases they may have had special reasons for re-

fusing them.h--But preparations, apparently considered

indispensable, are made for the predictions--altars are

erected and sacrifices offered, at which the king is bound

to stay.i  As these arrangements proceed from Balaam, we

are justified in presuming that the sacrifices are presented

to none else but Jahveh; at the time when this section

was composed,k altars and sacrifices, not yet restricted to

one central sanctuary, were lawful at any place;l and

although prophecies were generally pronounced without


   a lwAmA, xxii. 7, 18; xxiv. 3,             i xxiii. 1, 4, 6, 14, 15, 17, 29, 30.

15 ; see notes on xxiii. 7-10.                       k See infra, 'Date.'

   b lxe yrem;xi, xxiv. 4, 16.                             l See Comm. on Levit. i. 17-19.

   c Mflb Mxun;                                              The ‘Moabite Stone’ (line 18) men-

   d xxiv. 3, 4, 15,16; comp.jcfyx,  tions ' vessels of Jahveh' (hvhy ylk)

xxiv. 14; see notes in locc.                           taken from the Hebrews, at Nebo,

   c xxii. 7, MymisAq;, see notes on                  by Mesha, king of Moab, and pre-

xxii. 5-14.                                                      sented to his god Chemosh. There

   f Comp. 1 Sam. ix. 7, 8; 1 Ki.                    were, therefore, evidently in his time

xiii. 7 ; xiv. 3 ; 2 Ki. viii. 8, 9;                      still (about B.C. 890) legitimate sanc-

see Mic. iii. 5.                                               tuaries of God in the east-Jordanic

g Joseph. Ant. VI. iv. 1; X. xi. 3.                   districts (comp., on the other hand,

h 2 Ki. v. 15, 16, 26 ; comp. Gen.                 the very different spirit in the long

xiv. 22, 23.                                                     account of Josh. xxii. 10-34).


18                    BALAAM THE PHOPHET.


such expedients, various analogies are not wanting,a

music especially being used as a favourite auxiliary to

prophetic inspiration.b--The spot from which the oracles

are delivered is repeatedly altered.c These changes are

indeed suggested by Balak, who shrinks from new dis-

closures at a locality which had once proved inauspicious;

but as traces of similar views were entertained by pious

Hebrews also,d Balaam's compliance cannot be interpreted

to his disparagement.--In order to secure the efficacy of

his utterances, Balaam must actually see at least a part of

those who formed the subject of his speeches. The king,

therefore, chooses the places accordingly, and Balaam is

invested with the Divine spirit only when beholding the

Israelites in their camps.e But this circumstance also

involves nothing which would appear strange in a true

Hebrew prophet, as is proved by the close parallels which

may be adduced;f and it is certainly not surprising

in the comparatively early age to which this Book of

Balaam belongs.

            But, lastly, we have to mention a point which is not

without difficulty, and must be considered decisive on

the present enquiry. How are we to understand the

repeated statement, that Balaam went out 'to meet God,'g

which seems to have been a current technical term, and

was intelligible even in the still briefer form 'to meet?’h

Whenever Balaam thus goes out, he makes it essential to

go alone; and it would almost seem that his main object


  a Comp. 1 Ki. xviii. 23, 24, 30-                  ‘prophesy with harps, with psalteries,

33, etc.                                                           and with cymbals' (tOrn.okiB; MyxiB;n.iha).

  b 1 Sam. x. 5 ; 2 Ki. iii. 15, Eli-                  c xxii. 41; xxiii. 13, 27.

sha requested, 'Bring me a minstrel d See notes on xxiii. 11-17.

(NGenam;) and it came to pass, when                 e xxii 41; xxiii. 13; xxiv. 2.

the minstrel played, that the hand of            f See notes on xxii. 4 l-xxiii. 6..

the Lord came upon him'; 1 Chr.     

xxv. 1, 3, where the sons of Asaph,  g xxiii. 3, ytxrql hvhy hr,q.Ayi.

Heman, and Jeduthun, are said to                 h xxiii. 15, hr,q.Axi.

                        BALAAM THE PROPHET.              19


in occupying Balak with his sacrifices was to prevent

the king from following him.a This might seem sus-

picious. But in whatever manner the author may have

represented to himself the process of Divine inspiration,

he naturally, in connection with it, regarded solitude as

pre-eminently appropriate, because most favourable to con-

centrated thought and the undisturbed communion with

the source of revelation. Love of retirement is a common

and conspicuous trait in genuine Hebrew prophets. They

like to dwell in caverns and on summits of mountains.b

They seek above all the desert which, in its awful

grandeur, its vastness, and silence, seems particularly

calculated to elevate and inspire the Eastern mind;c and

Moses himself received his first Divine manifestation in

the burning bush of the wilderness.d There is, therefore,

nothing questionable in the circumstance that Balaam

‘went to a solitude.’e Now why did Balaam withdraw into

the lonely desert? If we follow an apparently unequivocal

statement of the text, he went, the first and second time,

‘to seek enchantments.’f Here we seem suddenly to be

transferred from the sphere of a pure religion to the

darkest paganism; for the nechashim (MywiHAn;), wherever

mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, are supposed to

refer to obnoxious artifices of fraud and jugglery, and

are forbidden in the Law among the most detestable of

criminal practices.g  So, then, Balaam would really be


 a xxiii. 3, 15: in the latter pas-                     b  1 Ki. xix. 9; 2 Ki. i. 9; ii. 16,

sage the distinction between Balaam           25; comp. Jer. xv. 17.

and Balak is expressed in the pro-               c 1 Ki. xix. 8; Matth. xi. 7, 9.

noun yknx with some emphasis; the            d Exod. iii. 1 sqq.

third time, when Balaam refrained   e  xxiii. 3,  ypiw, j;l,y.eva see notes in

from going apart, he did not, as on              loc.; comp. hKo, ver. 15.

the two previous occasions, request            f MywiHAn; txraq;li, xxiv. 1.

Balak to 'remain by his burnt-offer-            g See Commentary on Levitic. i.

ing' (comp. xxiii. 29; xxiv. 2),                      pp. 375, 401.

20                    BALAAM THE PROPHET.


nothing else but an idolatrous deceiver, and the author

would have erected a laborious structure with infinite

art, in order to overthrow it with a single blow? But

some considerations rise at once to warn us at least

against rashness in our judgment. In his second speech,

Balaam himself described it as one of the greatest

glories of Israel, that ‘there is no enchantment in Jacob,

nor divination in Israel,’a and represented this absence of

superstitious rites as one of the chief sources of their

prosperity and happiness. Should he, at that very time, be

himself guilty of such devices, and thus, double-tongued,

palpably falsify his own prophecies? Again, we read

that the third time 'he did not go out as the first and

second time.' Now, what was his object in going out?

Let us only recollect that the narrative observes, in the

first instance, ‘I will go, perhaps the Lord (hvhy) will come

to meet me;’b and in the second, ‘I will go to meet,’c

after which ‘the Lord (hvhy) met Balaam.'d It is, there-

fore, Jahveh, the holy God of Israel, whom he goes out to

seek, and not ‘enchantments.’ We may, with the utmost

confidence, balance those repeated statements against

a single and isolated expression strikingly at variance

with the tenor and spirit of the entire composition; and

if we cannot prove that the term nechashim was, in

earlier times, employed in a less offensive sense,e we are

justified and even compelled to consider that word in the

passage under discussion f as a corruption of the original

text, whether it crept in accidentally or was ventured by

one of Balaam's ancient detractors, and to alter it either

into hvhy or, what is easier, from the greater similarity


a xxiii. 23, wHana and Ms,q,,                  d xxiii. 15, 16.

b hr,q.Ayi, xxiii. 3.                                  e Comp. notes on xxiii. 25-xxiv.

                                                            2; also on xxii. 5-14.

c hr,q.Axi.                                               f xxiv. 1.

                        BALAAM THE PROPHET.              21


of the letters, into Myhlx, from whom, no less than

from hvhy, Balaam expected revelations.a If it had  

been 'enchantments' or ‘auguries,’ for which Balaam

went out, he would have adhered to them the third time

as scrupulously as he had done before, because, according

to heathen conceptions, they were the most important

element of the procedure; whereas the circumstance that,

previous to his final and most solemn speech, he abstained

from going to meet God, is a necessary feature in the

author's skilful design.b If, on the other hand, Balaam

really received revelations from Jahveh by virtue of those

enchantments, no reproach would fall upon Balaam, but

it would argue so rude a conception of the Deity as no

enlightened Hebrew entertained at the time when this

remarkable Book was written.c

            We may, therefore, state, as a safe and well-founded 

result, that the Hebrew author represents Balaam, the

heathen, in every respect as a true and noble prophet of 

Jahveh, and thus makes him participate in the highest

and holiest privileges of the elect of the elected people.d


   a xxii. 38. Considering the gra-                 prophecy is not described as simply

phic completeness of the narrative,             human, and his position to Israel is

it is a gratuitous assumption that in             not hostile. Nor can it even be ad-

xxiii. 3, 4, and 15, 16, 'the inter-                  mitted, that ‘the obnoxious traits of

mediate link of looking out for                    Balaam's character are, in these

auguries' is, for brevity's sake, not   chapters, but slightly touched upon,

mentioned (Ewald, Jahrb. x. 47).                 because the author did not wish to

   b See supra, p. 10.                                      weaken the force and impression of

   c As regards the view of Balaam's             the prophecies' (Herzog, Real-En-

gradual development from a heathen           cycl. ii. 237): a fair construction of

seer into a prophet of Jahveh, see                the author's words will never dis-

notes on xxiii. 25-xxiv. 2.                             cover the slightest allusion to an

   d It can, therefore, not be allowed,            obnoxious trait. Compare, on the

that Balaam is meant to personify               other hand, the admirable remark of

'the ideal wisdom of the world, or   a living English theologian: 'It is

secular prophecy and poetry, in their          one of the striking proofs of the

antagonism to the theocratic people'           Divine universality of the Old Tes-

(Lange, Genes. p.lxxviii.): Balaam's           tament, that the veil is, from time



                        7. MISREPRESENTATIONS.


WE feel a great reluctance to disturb the contemplation

of so exquisite a production by any expressions of regret.

Yet it will not be unprofitable to point out the tra-

ditional and still too common views of Balaam's character

and life as an instance of the deplorable confusion which

is possible in Biblical interpretation. It is not, indeed,

our intention to attempt a complete history of those

misconceptions. The endless task would be without a

corresponding advantage. We must be content with

introducing--instar omnium--some ancient specimens

from these, as from a common parentage, all subsequent

errors have sprung, which, though infinite in number, bear

all a striking resemblance--qualem decet esse sororum.

            Continuing in the path of the later Books of the

Hebrew Scriptures,a the Jews developed the character

of Balaam more and more in a spirit of depreciation, and

we consequently find it, in the New Testament, drawn in

no attractive colours. Those ‘that cannot cease from sin,

whose heart is exercised in covetous practices, cursed

children,’ these are the people ‘who follow the way of

Balaam, the son of Bosor (Beor), who loved the wages of

unrighteousness,b but was rebuked for his iniquity.'c

The wicked ‘run greedily after the error of Balaam for

reward,’d and he is placed on the same level of iniquity

with Cain, Korah, and Jezebel.e Very remarkable are

the allusions made to this subject in the Revelation of


to time, drawn aside, and other cha-            a See supra, p. 6.

racters than those which belonged               b   {Oj misqo>n a]diki<aj h]ga<phsen

to the chosen People appear in the              c 2 Pet, ii. 14-16.

distance, fraught with an instruction            d T^? pla<n^ tou? Balaa>m misqou?

which . . . far outruns the teaching   e]cexu<qhsan.

of any peculiar age or nation' (Stan-           e Jude 11; Rev. ii. 20, which

ley, Jewish Church, i. 187).                          reference will soon be explained.

            THE NEW TESTAMENT AND BALAAM.            23


St. John. Under the peculiar name of ‘Nicolaitans,’a a

sect or class of people is introduced, whose teaching is de-

nounced as utterly pernicious and fatal to salvation.b It

cannot be doubted that the term ‘Nicolaitans’ is meant to

be identical with ‘Balaamites;’ for Nicolans in Greek, as

Balaam in Hebrew, was understood to signify ‘destroyer 

of the people.’c Whether this term ‘Nicolaitans,’ as is not

improbable, points, with designed obscurity, to Paul and

his followers, who by their bold rejection of the cere-

monial law, had drawn upon themselves the bitter

animosity of Peter and his party,d or whether the Nico-

laitans formed some other objectionable community, this

much is certain, that they were held in deep aversion and

hatred, which their enemies intended to signify, in the

strongest and most intelligible manner, by associating

them with the detested seer Balaam.

            Similar is the account of Josephus, which bears the

usual character of his Biblical paraphrase, being legendary

yet frigid, minute yet inaccurate, and revealing little of

the spirit and beauty of the original. Josephus regards

Balaam, indeed, as a ‘prophet’ (ma<ntij),f evidently even


   a Nikolai*tai<.                                              e Comp. Comm. on Lev. ii. 114;

   b Rev. ii. 6, 14, 15, 20-24.                         Hengstenb., Geseh. Bileam's, pp. 22-

   c See notes on xxii. 2-4.                             25; Renan, Saint Paul, pp. 268 sqq.;

   d St. Paul's abrogation of the                     Vitringa, Obs. Saer. IV. ix. 25-34,

dietary and the exclusive marriage pp. 934-938, where Balaam, like

laws of the Pentateuch seems, by                the Nicolaitans, is described as

his Christian opponents, to have                  ‘doctor vagaium libidinum carna-

been considered equivalent to Ba-   lium;' Witsii, Miscell. i. 690, 'Ba-

laam's alleged seduction of the                    laamitas et Nicolaitas vel eosdem

Hebrews to idolatry and incest (su-            vel consimiles certe haereticos,' etc.;

pra, p. 6); hence the two chief                     Buddeus, Miscell. i. 220, 221, class-

stumbling-blocks' in the ‘doctrine   ing       Balaam among the ‘typici pec-

of Balaam' are described by St.                    catores,' etc.; Herzog, Real-Encycl.x.

John to have been ‘eating the flesh 338-340; J. R. Oertel, Paulus in der

sacrificed to idols, and committing             Apostelgeschichte, 1868; J. W. Lake,

fornication' (Rev. ii. 14, fagei?n                Paul, the Disowned Apostle, 1876.

ei]dwlo<quta kai> porneu?sai).                     f Antiq. IV. vi. 4.


24                    JOSEPHUS AND BALAAM.


as a prophet of the God of Israel, ‘who had raised him to

great reputation on account of the truth of his predic-

tions,’a and his speeches are referred to ‘Divine inspira-

tion.’b But he is, in the first place, at least inexact,

when he calls him also ‘the greatest of the prophets

at that time;’c for he certainly did not mean to rank

him above Moses. It can, therefore, hardly be doubted

that he assigned to him some intermediate position

between the Hebrew prophets and the common heathen

diviners. This is confirmed by the circumstance that

Balaam's sympathies are represented as being strongly

on the side of Moab and Midian. He declares to their

messengers, again and again, that he eagerly desired to

comply with their request;d and, after his first speech,

he assures the king himself that it had been his earnest

prayer that he might not disappoint him in his wishes

by being compelled to invoke blessings upon his enemies.

He offers the sacrifices in the hope that ‘he might observe

some sign of the flight of the Hebrews;’e and then from

him, and not from Balak, proceeds the proposal of another

attempt at execrating Israel---'that I may see,' he says,

‘whether I can persuade God to permit me to bind these

men with curses.’f Thus Josephus destroys the wonderful

impartiality and repose of the original, which attributes

to the seer absolutely no other will than that of the God

of Israel. Balaam is indeed made to say that he is not

'in his own power,'g but 'is moved to speak by the

Divine spirit,' which does not allow him to be silent, and

‘puts into his mouth such speeches as he is not even

conscious of.h But all this is merely intended to enhance


   a Antiq. IV. vi. § 2,                                      e Ibid. § 4, w[j troph>n i]dei?n sh-

   b   ]Epiqea<zein.                                                      mainome<nhn.

   c Antiq. IV. vi. 2, ma<ntij a@ristoj                      f Ibid. § 5.

tw?n to<te.                                                                  g  ]En e[aut&?.

   d Ibid. §§ 2, 3.                                                         h Ibid. §§ 2, 5.

                        PHILO AND BALAAM.                   25


the glorification of Israel, and thus to strengthen the

barrier between Hebrew and non-Hebrew, contrary to

the spirit of the Book of Balaam. To complete his

misapprehension, Josephus connects this narrative with

the iniquitous advice which a different tradition imputes

to Balaam, and on which he dwells with elaborate fulness

and many fanciful adornments; and, advancing to the

very opposite of the Biblical story, he lets Balaam say to

the king and the princes, 'I must gratify you even with-

out the will of God!'a A conception of clear and noble

outlines has thus been confused and almost effaced.b

            A still more decided step in the same direction was

made by Philo, who could touch no subject without en-

larging and deepening it by imagination and enthusiasm.

He bestows upon Balaam a variety of appellations

applicable only to a heathen soothsayer--'diviner by the

flight of birds,' or 'an observer of birds,' ‘a searcher for

prodigies,' and ‘a wily magician.’c In all these arts,

Balaam was a consummate master. He foresaw the most

incredible events, as heavy rain in the height of summer

and burning heat in the midst of winter. He predicted

plenty and famine, inundations and pestilence, and also

foretold their cessation. But he was dishonest, avaricious,

and blasphemous. Pretending to have communion with

God, he mendaciously told the first envoys that it was

the Lord who forbade him the journey; and as falsely he

assured the second ambassadors, by whose costly presents


a Xrh> ga<r me kai> para> bou<lhsin          tion are called oi]wno<mantij (De Con-

tou? qeou? xari<sasqai u[mi?n, §§ 6, 13.    fus. Ling., chap. 31), oi]wnoksko<poj

b Various other discrepancies be-                and oi]wnoskopi<a (Vit. Mos., loc. cit.,

tween the account of Josephus and De Mutat. Nom., chap. 37), terato-

that of our section will be pointed               sko<poj (De Confus. Ling., 1. c.);

out in the Commentary.                                sofistei<a mantikh< (De Mut. Nom.,

c Besides ma<ntij and mantei<a (Vit.          l. c.; Vit. Mos. i. 50) and magikh<

Mos. i. 48), Balaam and his avoca-  (Ibid.).

26                    PHILO AND BALAAM.


he was allured, that he went with them impelled by Divine

dreams. For this base deceit and presumption he was

punished by not being allowed, for some time, to see the

angel on the road, which ‘was a proof of his obtuseness;

for he was thus made aware that he was inferior to a brute,

at a time when he was boasting that he could see, not only

the whole world, but also the Creator of the world.’ It

is true that he enquired of the angel whether he was to

return home, but this was mere hypocrisy, justly calling

forth the angel's wrath, ‘for there was no need to ask

questions in a matter so self-evident.’ In delivering his

speeches before the king of Moab, his soul was indeed

free from cunning and artful divination, but this was

not his merit, ‘for God did not allow holy inspiration to

dwell in the same abode with magic.’ Balaam ‘was like

the interpreter of some other being, who prompted his

words,’ and he derived no real benefit from the inspira-

tion thus exceptionally imparted to him.a Unable to

take a warning from the first two prophecies which had

been put by God into his mouth, Balaam, ‘more wicked

than the king,’ still ‘most eagerly desired in his heart to

curse the Israelites.’ A third time baffled in his nefarious

intentions, since God's. invincible power ‘changed his

base into good coin,’b and violently upbraided by the

king, he offered him ‘suggestions of his own mind,’

recommending that he should ensnare the Hebrews by

the beauty of the Midianite women, and thus adopt the

only possible means of success; and this scheme is set

forth with embellishments similar to those devised by

Josephus.c Therefore, whenever Philo has occasion to

mention Balaam--and he employs him frequently as a


a De Mut. Nom., chap. 37.                            c Comp. Philo, De Vit. Mos. i. 48-

b De Confus. Ling., chap. 31;                        53, Opp. ii. 122 sqq.; see also Targ.

comp. De Mut. Nom. 1. c.                            Jonath. on xxiv. 25, and notes in loc.


            JEWISH TRADITION AND BALAAM.                  27


convenient illustration--he alludes to him in no terms of

sympathy or regard. He calls him ‘the symbol of vain

people;’ a ‘runaway and deserter;’a a ‘child of the earth

and not an off shoot of heaven;’b a man ‘misled by a mighty

torrent of falsehood;’c 'an empty mass of contrary and

conflicting doctrines,’d since the very name Balaam means

emptiness;e in a word, a creature finally overthrown and

swallowed up by his ‘insane iniquity,’ because 'he meant

to stamp the Divinely inspired prophecies with his

deceitful jugglery.'f

            Thus a complex and unreal character was constructed,

in which neither the human nor the Divine elements

have form or distinctness--a chaotic incongruity, half

man, half demon.

            The same features were worked out by Jewish Tra-

dition with its own tenacious ingenuity. A glimmer of

the truth lingered long in isolated sayings of liberal

teachers. The words of Deuteronomy,g ‘There arose

thenceforth no prophet in Israel like Moses,' were thus

commented upon: ‘Not in Israel it is true, but there

arose one among the other nations of the world, namely

Balaam.’ Nay, several and not unessential points were

enumerated, in which Balaam's prophetic endowment

was held to be superior to that of Moses himself, since

the former, but not the latter, was described as ‘knowing

the knowledge of the Most High.'.h This remarkable

pre-eminence of a heathen is explained and justified by


a De Cherub. chap. 10, ma<taion                 d Quod Deter. Potior. Insid.,chap.

lao>n o@nta, and a]stra<teuton kai>          20, Opp. i. 205.

leipota<kthn.                                               e De Confus. Ling., chap. 31,

  b Gh?j qre<mma, ou]k ou]ranou? bla<-         Opp. i. 429, kai> ga>r ma<taioj e[rmh-

sthma.                                                          neu<etai Balaa<m.

  c Quod. Deus Immutab. chap. 37, f De Mut. Nom., chap. 37.

Opp. i. 299, poll&? t&? th?j a]frosu<-      g xxxiv. 10.

nhj xrhsa<menoj r[eu<mati ktl.               h xxiv. 16 Nvylf tfd fdy.



urging that God desired to deprive the pagan nations of

every possible excuse, lest they should say: ‘God has kept

us at a distance from Himself,a and if He had given us a

prophet like Moses, we should readily have served Him.’

For a similar reason, God granted them also great kings

and sages, though all these, unlike the Hebrew prophets,

kings, and sages, brought to their peoples no blessings,

but destruction; on which account, after the time of

Balaam, the Divine spirit was for ever withdrawn from

the Gentiles.b And again, Rabbi Abba bar Cahana, a

scholar of the third Christian century, is reported to have

said: ‘There never were such philosophers in the world

as Balaam, the son of Beor, and Eunomos, the weaver.’c

The former proved the depth of his wisdom by the

answer he gave to ‘all the nations of the earth,’ when

they came to him enquiring, whether it was possible for

them to rival the Hebrews, upon which he replied

‘Never, as long as you hear the lisping of their young

children in the schools and the houses of prayer.’d

            But already in the Mishnah, Balaam, ‘the wicked,’ is

very distinctly contrasted with the pious Abraham his

disciples are described as notorious for the signal vices

of ‘envy, haughtiness, and arrogance;’e and, like their

master, they inherit hell, and are hurled into the pit of


a vntqHr htx                     was a contemporary and friend of

b Midrash Rabba. Num. Sect.                      Rabbi Mair, and lived, therefore,

xiv. §§ 25, 26; xx. init.; Yalkut                     about the middle of the second cen-

Shimeoni, §§ 765, 771; Sifre, last               tury, A.C.  Comp. Midr. Rabb.

Sect. sub fin.,fol. 150, ed. Friedmann;        Exod. xiii., init., and on Ruth i. 8,

Midrash Tauchuma, Sect. Balak §1,           p. 60 Edit. Stett.

etc.                                                                  d Midr. Rabb. Genes. lxv. 10, and

c ydrgh svmynbx. Neither the                   Lam. init.,  Nypcpcm tvqvnyth Mx

name nor the surname of this philo-            Mhl Mylvky Mtx yx Nlvqb.

sopher is certain, and he has been                e hvr Nyf, hvbg Hvr, and wpn

variously identified with Oinomaos            hbHr, strangely deduced, respec-

of Gadara, Numenios the Neo-Plato-          tively, from Num. xxiv. 2; xxii. 13

nician of Apamea, and others. He                kv Nxm yk; and xxii, 18.

            JEWISH TRADITION AND BALAAM.      29


destruction.a This text is, in the Talmud, the Tar-

gumim, and Midrashim, worked out with the utmost zest

and relish. Balaam, accordingly, is not only ‘the wicked’

par excellence,b but he is stamped as the permanent type

both of human depravity and of the enmity of the im-

pious against Israel as a nation. He is, therefore, either

identified, or in some manner connected, with many of

the most hateful personages of the Old Testament. His

very name is supposed to testify to his pernicious nature;

for he was truly a ‘devourer’ or ‘destroyer of the people,’c

not only because 'he devised means to swallow up the

people of Israel,' and, by this abominable scheme, actually

occasioned the massacre of twenty-four thousand Hebrews,d

but because his despicable jugglery, and the evil example

of his life, drew the people, far and wide, into an abyss

of moral and spiritual perdition.e His father--so assert

the Rabbins, with that supreme disregard of chronological

probability, which makes their treatment of history an

engaging play of kaleidoscopic combinations--his father

Beor was the Mesopotamian oppressor of the Israelites,

Cushan Rishathaim,f who, again, was the same person as

the Aramean Laban.g Yet Balaam himself was identified

with Laban,h whom old Jewish writers credit with every

vice of cunning and fraud.i  He was detestable like Cain

and Doeg, Ahitophel, Gehazi, and Haman.k He was

among those counsellors of Pharaoh who advised the


a Mishn. Avoth v. 19; compare                     d Num. xxv. 9.

Midr. Rabbah, Num. xx. 4; Yalk,                e See notes on xxii. 2-4.

Shim. § 765; Bechai, Comment. on f Judg. iii. 7-10.

xxii. 13, etc.                                                   g Talm. Sanhedr. 105x.

b fwrh, passim; comp. Targ.                      h Targ. Jon, xxii, 5,

Jon. Num, xxiii. 9, 10, 21, xfywr. i See Comm. on Genes., pp. 465,

c Talm. Sanhedr. 105  Mflb=         466; comp. Maimon. Mor. Nevoch.

Mf flb.  Targ. Jon. xxii. 5; Aruch           ii. 41, etc.

s. V., lxrWy Mf flbl tvcf Cfyw     k Talm. Sanh. 105a; Midr. Rabb.

and various other expositions.                     Num. xx. 1 fin.



murder of every new-born male child of the Hebrews, in

order thus to destroy their expected deliverer, and he

stimulated the Egyptian people to cruel resistance against

the oppressed strangers.a He was the instructor of those

impious ‘chiefs of sorcery,’ Jannes and Jambres, who in-

cited the Egyptian king to the same ruthless measure,

who tried to imitate the miracles of Moses by their secret

arts,b and who, at the head of forty thousand of the

foreign rabble,c induced Aaron to make the golden calf.d

These two disciples accompanied him on his journey to

Moab.e For his trade was witchcraft and interpretation

of dreams, and after having once temporarily enjoyed the

gifts of true prophecy, he immediately returned to that

trade for ever afterwards.f All the circumstances of his

life were inquired into. Thus we read in the Talmud,

that a certain Sadduceeg asked Rabbi Chanina, whether


a Talm. Sanh. 106a; Sot. 11a;                        to be again Jesus; comp. Levy, Cbal--

Targ. Jon. Exod. ix. 21.                                daeisches Woerterbuch, i. 31, 337).

b Targ. Jon. Exod. vii. 11.                            Whatever foundation there may be

c Exod. xii. 38.                                               for these conjectures, there is no

d Targ. Jon. Exod. i. 15, ywyr          doubt that Jesus and Balaam were,

xywrH, vii. 11; Midr. Tanch., Sect.  in Talmudical and Rabbinical writ-

xwt yk, §19, p. 316, Ed. Stettin;               ings, often brought into mutual rela-

comp. 2 Tim. iii. 8; see Comm. on tion, although some, probably, go

Exod., p. 114. It has been conjec-                too far in their surmises (as Geiger,

tured that Jannes and Jambres co-               Jud. Zeitschr. vi. 34-36, 305, re-

inside with the two men, xnHvy         ferring to Christ also Mishn. Avoth

xrmmv (in Talm. Menachoth 85a),  v. 19; Sanhed. x. 2; Midr. Rabbah,

who reproached Moses with having             Num. xiv. 25, 26, where, however,

brought new kinds of enchantment ‘Balaam’ is described as a non-Is-

into into Egypt, a country itself rich           raelite, etc.; comp. Talm. Gittin 57a,

enough in magical superstitions;                 where Balaam and Christ are clear.

and that the first--xnHvy--is no                     ly distinguished.)

other than John ( ]Iwa<nnhj, Myn.iya)               e Targ. Jon. Num. xxii. 22.

the Baptist, and the second Jesus                 f Talm., Sanhedr, 106a; Midr.

(since xrmm means apostate, Talm.           Rabb. Num. xx. 2, 9 ; Yallcut Shim.

Horay. 4a), who is also said to have            § 765; Midr. Tanch. Balak, § 4.

introduced Egyptian arts (Talm.                   g yqvdc, that is, probably, a Jew-

Shabb. 104b, where the son of Sat- ish convert to Christianity (comp.

da--xdFs, or Mary--is supposed               Avoth R. Nath. chap. 5).

            JEWISH TRADITION AND BALAAM.                  31


he knew how old Balaam was at the time of his death.

The Rabbi replied, there was nothing written on the

subject, but he believed he was justified in concludinga

that Balaam reached an age of thirty-three or thirty-four

years, upon which the Sadducee exclaimed, ‘Thou hast

spoken rightly, for I have myself seen the chronicle of

Balaam,b in which it is recorded that Balaam, the lame,

was thirty-three years old, when he was killed by

Phinehas, the robber.’c So much is certain, that Jewish

tradition draws Balaam as disfigured by every conceivable

physical and moral defect. He was lame on one foot and

blind on one eye.d He was a pitiless knave, who, without

provocation, burnt to exterminate millions of souls, and

a fiendish tempter, who strove to overwhelm a pious

people by sin and crime; a base hypocrite, who simulated

repentance, when he was trembling in dastardly fear,e

and a cunning deceiver, who, under the guise of fervent

blessings, artfully veiled the bitterest curse and hatred;

an incarnation of evil, endeavouring, by insincere and

excessive praise, to hurl the Hebrews into moral ruin,

whereas Moses, and all the other true prophets, earnestly

dwelt on their trespasses, and compassionately exhorted

even the heathen to righteousness; a hollow boaster,

who promised much and performed little; an impostor,

whose ‘knowledge of the Most High’ chiefly consisted in

being able to discover the seasons when God is disposed


a With reference to Ps. lv. 24.                      has, the robber,' as Pontius Pilate,

b Mflbd hysqnp                                       (hxFsylp  comp, .Perles, in Fran-

c hxFsyl, Talm. Sanhedr. 106b.                 kel's Monatsschrift, 1872, pp. 266,

This passage also has been supposed           267),

to imply a hidden allusion to Jesus,             d Talm. Sanhedr. 10Sa, 106a; the

who, according to Jewish legends, one is deduced from ypw (xxiii. 3),

was lamed by falling from an. eleva-           the other from Nyfh Mtw (xxiv. 3,

tion (comp. Talm. Sotah l0b), ‘the   15), in the well-known manner of

chronicle of Balaam' being taken                 allegorical exegesis; see notes in loco.

as one of the gospels, and ‘Phine-               e Comp. xxii. 24.


32                    MISREPRESENTATIONS.


to wrath and judgment; a man puffed up by silly conceit,

though, with all his pagan wisdom, unable to rebut the

censure of his ass; insatiable in greed off honour and

riches; unnaturally immoral even in his sorceries; an

implacable foe, who betrayed the malignant joy of his

heart at the expected execration of the Hebrews by the

impatient eagerness with which he hastened the prepara-

tions for the journey;a refractory against God, who was

compelled to force him to his duty, as a man forces an

animal by bit and bridle; and so reckless in his con-

tumacy, that he defied Heaven itself and its immutable


            Now if we consider this terrible array of accusations,

which, as we have observed, have been repeated in

numberless modifications by patristic and scholastic

writers, by commentators in the middle ages and even in

our own time;c and if we enquire after the sources from

which all these reproaches are derived, we reasonably

expect that they are founded on reliable authorities. But

we may well be astonished to find that they are simply

inferred from the few and scanty allusions in the last two


a Comp. xxii. 21.                                            to other wicked men, like Pharaoh,

b Comp. Talm. Sanhedr. 105; Be-                Laban, Nebuchadnezzar--Mdxk

rach. 7a; Midr. Rabb. Genes. xciii.             xbHhb vwGlp lcx jlvh'; also on

11; Num. xx, init., 2, 3, 4, 6, 8,                    xxiv. 3, Balaam is called rb,G, , that

10; Yalkut Shim. §§ 765-771;                      is lvgnrt cock, because, lvgnrth  

Midrash Tanchacm. Balak, 1-15;                tvpvfh lkm Jxvn,  and for other

Targ. Jonath. Gen. xii. 3, xxvii. 29;  similar reasons ; and on xxiv. 4, Ba-Num. xxii.-xxiv., passim; Ebn Ezra             laam's gift of prophecy by no means

on Num. xxii. 28: as is his wont                   equalled that of the patriarchs, and

in difficult questions, he speaks of a           certainly not that of Moses--thus

‘deep mystery’ (dvs), which he                   contesting the more liberal view of

cannot reveal; 'the part cannot                      earlier Rabbins; etc.

change the part, but the destination c Comp. Calmet, Dictionnaire de

of the whole changes the destina-                la Bible, vol. I., pp. 718, 719; and

tion of the part,' etc.; Rashi on xxii.            about the fables of the Mohamme-

8; Bechai on xxiii. 4, 'God came                  dans, D'Herbelot, Biblioth. Orient.,

to Balaam in the night--as He did               pp. 180, 181.


            MISREPRESENTATIONS.              33


Books of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua.a It is

entirely out of the question to assume the support of

other and independent traditions. For the original and

primitive accounts, after having been fluctuating and

even contradictory at least down to the seventh century,

cannot, after the lapse of protracted periods, suddenly

have received trustworthy additions all tending in one

direction. The more actively the subject occupied and

interested the popular mind, the more surely it was

liable to modification and distortion. But what Hebrew

prophet would have ventured to make such impure lips

pronounce the most solemn oracles in the name of

Jahveh, the Holy One? How should the Hebrew reader

have expected benefit and advantage from the blessings

of so depraved a heathen?

            Even this, however, is not the most important point to

which we would advert. How can it be imagined or justi-

fled, that all those hateful inventions have been considered

and employed as a natural illustration of this ‘Book of

Balaam,’ to which, in spirit and in every detail, they

are diametrically opposed? How can it be explained, that

so many thousands have, from this section, constructed,

in the person of Balaam, the vilest and meanest caricature

of human nature? Is it possible to repress a feeling of

deep pain at finding that the Book which, should be ‘a

lamp to our foot and a light to our path,' the Book which

should ‘make wise the simple,’ and ‘illumine the eyes,’

has been doomed to promote the most perplexing con-

fusion in the minds of even pious men who prize the

truth? Is there any other work, in connection with

which such deplorable perversion of judgment, if at all

conceivable, would be so long and so persistently upheld?


            a See supra, pp. 3-7.


                                    8. DETERIORATION.


FOR the progress of our enquiry, it is essential to ascertain

which of the two divergent views taken in the Hebrew

Scriptures of Balaam's life and mission is the older one,

and how the change of tradition arose. We have, indeed,

but slight materials available for guiding us in this

investigation, but they are sufficient to lead at least to

an approximate result.

            In the words of Micah, above referred to,a ‘Remember

now what Balak king of Moab schemed,b and what

Balaam, the son of Beor, answered him,'c the ‘scheme’ of

King Balak is placed in clear juxtaposition to the answer

of Balaam; but as there can be no possible doubt about   

Balak's intention, there can be none about Balaam's reply.

The latter opposed the heathen king and was on the side

of Israel. He did not curse but he blessed, and this was

brought about, as the prophet adds, that the Hebrews

‘might know the kindness of the Lord.’ Balaam, there-

fore, felt; himself guided by Jahveh, the God of Israel.

He recognised His power and uttered praises in His name.

Since Micah is thus in complete accordance with this por-

tion of the Pentateuch, we are justified in concluding that,

in his time still, or in the eighth century B.C., the seer

Balaam was not only held in honour, but was remembered

with proud gratification as one who had so splendidly

testified to Israel's greatness and their privileged position.

In our ‘Book of Balaam,’ stress is indeed laid on the

fact of his being a Gentile, but none on his being a

heathen. From the lips of the stranger, Israel's glorifica-

tion was to come with greater force and significance;

but the author of this beautiful narrative knew, with


            a Page 5.         b CfayA       c Micah vi. 5.

                        DETERIORATION.                                       35


respect to religion, no hard line of demarcation between

Israelite and pagan. He considered both alike capable

of knowing Jahveh, of receiving His revelations, and of

delivering His oracles. It is true, the principle of Israel's

election is the leading idea of Hebrew prophecy, the

watchword of which may be described to be: ‘Jahveh,

the holy--the God of Israel; Israel, the righteous--the

people of Jahveh.’ But, for many ages, the higher minds

among the Hebrews were by this abstract idea never

prevented from breaking through the narrow barriers.

Mindful of the primeval traditions of a common origin of

mankind, they were eager to enlarge the kingdom of

God by including within its pale the noble spirits of all

nations. Melchizedek, the Canaanite, was priest of the

‘Most high God.’ Jethro acknowledged the omnipotence

of the God of Israel. Jonah exhorted the proud people

of Nineveh in the name of Jahveh, and found among

them a more ready obedience than any prophet ever

found in Judah or Israel. Isaiah hoped that the three

great hostile empires of his time, after having effected

a political union, would also adopt a common religion,

when ‘the Lord of hosts would bless them, saying,

Blessed be Egypt, My people, and Assyria, the work of

My hands, and Israel, My inheritance.'a Nay, the pro-

phet desires to see the time, when all nations shall con-

gregate together on the mountain of the Lord's house.b

Zephaniah beholds in his mind that happy future, when

God will pour out over every people.a pure tongue, and

His worshippers beyond the rivers of Ethiopia will bring

gifts to Jerusalem.c A Psalmist praises in lofty strains


a Isa. xix. 25; comp. vers. 18-                       b isa. ii. 2, 3; Mic, iv. 1, 2;

24, 'there shall be an altar to the                  comp. Isa. lxvi. 23.

Lord in the land of Egypt,' etc.                     c Zeph. iii. 9, 10.

36                    DETERIORATION.


the glorious promises vouchsafed to Zion, God's beloved

abode: ‘I call Egypt and Babylon My adorers; Philistia

and Tyre with Ethiopia are born there'--all nations,

marked and numbered by God, have in His city their

home, their peace and salvation.a The great prophet who

wrote towards the end of the exile, is inexhaustible in

developing these magnificent hopes. God does not confine,

he teaches, His truth and protection to Israel; but Israel,

His servant, is to be ‘the light of the nations to the end of

the earth;' for he is appointed as mediator of a universal

covenant with God, as the deliverer of all those who are

in the bonds of darkness and error. Even ‘the sons of

the stranger that join themselves to the Lord' in love

and obedience, shall be reckoned among His people, and

their sacrifices on the holy mountain shall be graciously

accepted; ‘for My house,’ says God, ‘shall be called a

house of prayer for all nations.’b  And as the same pro-

phet clearly says of Cyrus, the Persian, that he invoked

the name of Jahveh, and traced to Him every success and

triumph,c so our author represents Balaam, the Aramaean,

as enjoying a communion with Jahveh more constant

and more familiar than any Hebrew prophet enjoyed,

with the exception of Moses alone. Though this beauti-

ful and enlightened toleration may, in a great measure,

be attributable to the highmindedness of the author

himself, it prevailed, as a matter of history, only in those

older and happier times, when the free and pure spirit of

prophecy, unfettered by fixed codes of ceremonial laws,

was still breathing in the land, and when Micah was


a Ps. lxxxvii. 2-6.                                           c Isa. x1i. 25, 'I have raised him

b Isa. x1ii. 6, 7; xlix. 6; lvi. 1-                       up and he came.... him who calls

8; lx. 3; lxvi. 18- 23; comp. Am.                  upon My name; comp. Ezra i. 2;

ix. 11, 12; Joel iii. 1, 2; Zech.                      see also Isa. xliv. 28; xlv. 1; xlvi.

viii. 20-23; xiv. 16; Mal. i. 11.                     11; xlviii. 14.

                        DETERIORATION.                                       37


permitted to convey the whole sum of human duties in

those simple words, which may well be regarded as the

most important of all prophetic utterances: ‘The Lord

hath shown thee, 0 man, what is good; and what doth

the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, and to love

mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?'a

            But that free spirit disappeared too soon, and Deutero-

nomy was compiled, which, though still pervaded by

something like the old prophetic buoyancy and freshness,b

insists upon the fatal injunction, ‘You shall not add to

the word which I command you, nor shall you take away

from it,’c and enforces the severest measures with respect

to heathen tribes and their extirpation.d Though this

rigour, in the progress of time, effectually shielded the bulk

of the people against the powerful allurements of idolatry,

it proved, for the nobler minds, a check and a restraint,

which, by inflexibly maintaining a uniform level, could

not fail gradually to stifle all lofty and original aspira-

tions. The promulgation of the Book of Deuteronomy

was the first heavy blow dealt to the work of Hebrew

prophets. That Book, accordingly, alludes to Balaam in

a context and a spirit betraying a strong contrast, if not

a deep-seated enmity, between Israel and the stranger,

culminating in the harsh command respecting the

Ammonite and Moabite, ‘Thou shalt not ask their peace

nor their welfare all thy days for ever.’e The kindred

Book of Joshua stamps the seer distinctly as a kosem, or

a false and fraudulent soothsayer, who, for sordid reward,

pronounces against Israel malignant, though impotent,


a Mic. vi. 8, see supra, pp. 4, 5.                    d Deut. vii. 1-5, 22-26; xx. 16

b Comp. Deut. x. 12, 13; v. 2.6;                    --18, hmwn lk hyHt xl; xxiii.

vi. 4, 5; xxx. 6, 11-14, 20.                            3, 4; xxv. 19; comp. Josh. x. 28,

c Deut. iv. 2, 5-8; xiii. 1; comp.                    30-40; xi. 8, 14, 15, etc.

Josh. i. 7, 8; Prov. xxx. 6.                             e Deut. xxiii. 4-7.

38                                CONCLUSIONS.


imprecations;a till finally, the latest portions of the Pen-

tateuch could venture to charge him with the blackest

crimes, finding a just retribution in the wicked seducer's

ignominious death.b


                                    9. CONCLUSIONS. 


IT is, therefore, most natural to suppose, that the portion

before us originated at a comparatively early date; that,

complete in itself, it was preserved as a small book or

scroll from generation to generation, till it was ultimately

embodied in the great national work, the Pentateuch, as

one of its most precious ornaments. How the last

redactor of that complex Book could, side by side, incor-

porate two entirely contradictory versions, and how he

considered they might be reconciled, these are no easy

questions, the solution of which has exercised, and is still

exercising, the zeal and sagacity of hundreds of interpre-

ters which however, like the efforts of harmonising the

double accounts of the Creation and the Flood, of Korah's

rebellion and other events, and of many laws, must,

perhaps, always remain open problems. It is enough to

know that the compiler deemed an agreement possible,

and it will not be without interest, in the exposition of

the text itself, to search for his probable view. Nor shall

we, in this place, do more than mention a few devices, by

which the rest may be estimated. 'It is indeed certain,'

observes a great critic, ‘that an intrinsic identity of

history or form is out of the question; but in a higher

sense, such wavering and contradiction are quite possible

in a heathen, that is a lower, prophet, who momentarily

may be filled with a purer spirit, and may, at such a

time, speak and prophesy beyond the capacity of his


a Josh. xiii. 22; xxiv. 9, 10.                           b Num. xxxi. 8-16; comp. xxv. 1-18.

                                    CONCLUSIONS.                              39


nature, but who, being in his own mind very far behind

the Divine spirit, may easily, when those transitory

moments have passed, yield to very different impulses.’a

That a man like Ewald should have rested satisfied with

so equivocal an explanation, is hardly less astonishing

than the difficulty which the explanation is meant to

remove. Acumen and truthfulness led Lessing to recog-

nise in Balaam ‘acts of the strictest honesty, and even of

an heroic submission to God,’ and yet Balaam's character

was to him a riddle--'a curious mixture,' in which

‘many excellent qualities’ were allied with ‘the utmost

baseness and iniquity.’ Balaam must indeed appear an

inexplicable mystery to all who fail to separate the two

antagonistic traditions. Had this been carefully done,

earlier and recent writers would not, in troubled em-

barrassment, ‘have wondered at the strange inconsistency

and complexity’ supposed to mark the seer's character;

at ‘the subtle phases of his greatness and of his fall;’ at

‘the self-deception which persuaded him that the sin

which he committed might be brought within the rules

of conscience and revelation;' at ‘a noble course’ degra-

ded by ‘a worldly ambition never satisfied,’ or at ‘the

combination of the purest form of religious belief with

a standard of action immeasurably below it.’b Had the

sources been examined, we should not find Balaam des-

cribed ‘as a prophet of the true God, and a most detestable

type of unredeemed wickedness;’c as ‘an extraordinary    a

nondescript between the Divine messenger and a sooth-

sayer operating with the arts of heathen sorcery;’d nor


a Ewald, Jahrbuecher, viii. 39.                     c Michaelis, Anmerk., pp. 51, 52.

b Butter, Sermons, vii..; Newman,                d Riehm, Handwoert., i. 190, ‘als

Sermons, iv.; Arnold, Sermons,                   merkwurdige Zwittergestalt zwi-    

vi.; summarised by Stanley, Jewish             schen dem echten Jehovapropheten'

Church, i. 188.                                               etc.; Lergerke, Kenaan, i. 585, 594.           

40                    THE ORIGINAL BOOK OF BAALAM


as any other of those impossible beings, which the fancy

of able and learned men has so abundantly conceived.a

            We have shown that the 'Book of Balaam' is in com-

plete accordance with the earlier phases of Hebrew

prophecy. But we believe it is possible to establish the

date of the composition with much greater accuracy.

With this view it will be necessary, first to consider

whether the three chapters, as we read them in the

traditional text really represent the form in which

they were originally written.





AN attentive and impartial analysis incontestably proves

that this portion includes several important interpola-

tions, of which it is for our present purpose sufficient to

point out the following two:--

            1. When Balaam, after the arrival of the second em-


a Comp. Deyling, Observatt., iii.                  still changing and struggling'); etc.

102-117; Clarke, Comm., p. 714                Correctly, however, two different

(although, on the whole, judging of             and irreconcilable traditions are ad-

Balaam with remarkable moderation           mitted by De Wette, Kritik der Is-

and justice, and even defending the             raelit. Geschichte, i. 362; Vater,

evil counsel he is said to have given            Pentat., iii. 118-120, 457 ; A. G.

by supposing that 'he desired to                   Hoffmann, in Ersch and Gruber's

form alliances with the Moabites or           Encvcl., x. 184 ; Gramberg, Reli-

Midianites through the medium of gions-Ideen, ii. 349 ; Lergerke, Ken.

matrimonial connections'); Beard, i. 582; Oort, Disputatio de Pericope

Dict. of the Bible, i. 123; Smith,                 Num. xx. 2-xxiv., p. 124 ; Bun-

Dict., i. 162 ; Davidson, Introd. to             sen, Bibelwerk, v. 599, 600; Noel-

the Old Test., i. 331, 332 ; Herzog, deke, Untersuchungen, pp. 87, 90;

Real-Encycl., ii. 237; H. Schultz,                Colenso, Pentat. and Book of Joshua,

1 Alttestam. Theol., ii. 35; Reinke, Parts v., vi.; Fuerst, Gesch. der

Beitraege, iv. 215, 232; Lange, Bibel-       Bibl. Liter., ii. 228, 230; Krenkel, in

werk, ii. 307-309 ('the dogmatic                 Schenkel's Bibel Lex., i. 456; Riehm,

Balaam' must be taken in connec-                l. c.; etc. But many of these writers

tion with 'the worldly politician and            either do not attempt at all to fix

tempter Balaam;' we have before                 the mutual relation of the two ver-

us not 'a settled character, but one               sions, or fix it hazardously.

            THE ORIGINAL BOOK OF BALAAM.                  41


bassy, consulted God again, he received the answer

‘Rise, and go with the men.’a Yet when, following this

distinct direction, he had entered upon the journey, we

read that ‘God's anger was kindled because he went, and

the angel of the Lord placed himself in the way to

oppose him,' for ‘the journey was pernicious in his eyes.’b 

No ingenuity, no dialectic skill, will ever succeed in

harmonising these two statements. They are simply

antagonistic. Therefore, the whole passage in which this

contradiction occursc must be considered as interpolated;

the more so, as that passage interrupts the thread of the

narrative, destroys the unity and symmetry of the con-

ception, and is, in spirit and in form, as a whole and in

its details, strikingly different from the main portion.d

            2. Balaam was called by Balak, that he might by im-

precatory utterances assist him in the anticipated struggle

between Israel and Moab. Therefore, both the glorifica-

tion of Israel, and the prediction of Moab's future subdual,e

fall fitly within the author's plan. But everything elsef

must be regarded as inappropriate, and would, from this

consideration alone, be marked as unwarranted addition.

But other arguments lead to the same conclusion. After

having finished his oracles on Israel, Balaam says to

Balak, ‘Come, I will tell thee what this people is

destined to do to thy people in later days.’g After this

clear introduction, we have merely to expect a prophecy


a xxii. 20, see supra, p. 2.                             in Schenkel's Bibel-Lexie., i. 457;

b Vers. 22, 32.                                                and others; comp. also Hoffmann,

c xxii. 22-35.                                                  in Ersch and Grub. Encycl. x. 184,

d See notes on xxii. 22-35.                           who considers that this passage is

Some modern writers have justly                ‘not indeed an interpolation, but

perceived the incongruous character           borrowed from a different source.'

of these verses; as Gramberq, l. c., e xxiv. 14-17.

ii. 348; 0ort, l. c., p. 120; Beard,                 f xxiv. 18-24.

Dict. of the Bible, i. 123; Krenkel,             g xxiv. 14, jmfl hzh Mfh.



on Moab. But besides this, we find vaticinations, peculiar

in language and rhythm, in tone and tendency, on Edom

and Amalek, on the Kenites, the Cyprians, and Assyrians.a

Again, throughout the portions we have before discussed,

the principle is maintained that the prophet must see

those on whom he pronounces prophecies;b for the

Moabites also he beholds in their chief representatives,

the king and the princes. But that characteristic prin-

ciple is disregarded, at least with respect to some of the

nations just mentioned, if not to all. Thus the firm

framework of the narrative is loosened, and the ad-

mirable completeness of the picture destroyed.c

            Now if we consider the section before us with the

exclusion of these two passages,d we may arrive at a

safe result as to




THE following points seem evident:--

            1. All the tribes of Israel are described as inhabiting

the land in security and prosperity.e The date of the

Book is, therefore, neither before Joshua, nor after the

reign of the kings of Israel, Menahem and Pekah

(B.C. 770-740), when the first Assyrian deportations

took place under Pul or Tiglath-pileser.f

            2. The people are constituted as a monarchy.g The


a Vers. 18-24.                                                            in loc.); the word MywHn, xxiv. 1,

b See supra, p. 18.                                         probably for Myhlx or hvhy (see

c See notes on xxiv. 18-24.                           supra, pp. 19-21).

Some other passages, apparent, in               d Viz., xxii. 22-35, and xxiv.

our opinion, as interpolations or                 18-24; see Appendix.

corruptions, but without importance           e xxiii. 9, 24; xxiv. 2, 5.

for establishing the date of the                    f 2 Ki. xv. 19, 20, 29; 1 Chr.

Book, will be pointed out in their                v. 26.

due places; as xxii. 3, 4 (see notes              g xxiv. 7, 17, lxrWym Fbw Mqv.

            THE DATE OF THE COMPOSITION.                    43


section belongs, therefore, to a time not anterior to


            3. One king rules the country, and Jacob and Israel

are identical.a There is no trace of an allusion to the

disruption of the kingdom, the whole people forming

one commonwealth, irresistible through their unity. The

piece can, therefore, have only been written in the time of

the undivided kingdom, under Saul, David, or Solomon.

            4. The Moabites are mentioned as utterly vanquished

and humbled.b They were, indeed, defeated by Saul,

but his success was neither brilliant nor decisive, and is,

in the Hebrew records, but cursorily stated, together with

other military advantages.c Moreover, the power of the

Hebrews and their position among the nations were, in

Saul's time, not of that eminence upon which these

chapters dwell so emphatically. There remains, there-

fore, only the alternative between the reign of David

and that of Solomon. But

            5. This section breathes, on the whole; a warlike spirit.

The country is still compelled to remain fully prepared

against watchful adversaries: ‘Behold, it is a people

that riseth up as a lioness, and lifteth himself up like a

lion; he doth not lie: down till he eateth his prey, and

drinketh the blood of the slain';d or Israel ‘devoureth

the nations, his enemies, and crusheth their bones and

pierceth with his arrows.'e Such descriptions do not

harmonise with the peaceful times of king Solomon.

            The Book of Balaam was, therefore, most probably writ-

ten in the latter part of David's reign (about B.C. 1030),


a xxiv. 5, 7, 17.                                               and against Edom, and against the

b xxiv. 17, bxvm ytxp CHmv.                    kings of Zobab, and against the

c ‘So Saul fought against all his                    Philistines,' 1 Sam. xiv. 47, 48.

enemies on every side, against Moab,         d xxiii. 24.

and against the children of Ammon,            e xxiv. 8; comp. 9a, 17.



when it was inspired by those glorious triumphs over

the Moabites and other rebellious foes, which the last

prophecy introduces with such peculiar power and pride.a

Although we possess no details of David's wars against

Moab, we know thus much, that they were carried on with

the bitterest animosity and left a deep impression behind.b

            Of which of David's great contemporaries would this

exquisite masterpiece of epic and lyrical composition be

unworthy? Indeed, in some passages, it recalls the

energetic sweetness of the Davidic Psalms, while, in others,

it breathes their heroic force.c However, it would be

vain to fix, by conjecture, upon a name which men would

have delighted to hold in immortal honour.

            There is nothing in the genuine parts of the section

which points to a time later than David. For what does

the author know of the Hebrews and their history?

They are a blessed and a pious people, worshipping,

Jahveh, and protected by His love.d They have come

out of Egypt.e On their way from this country into

Canaan, they encamp near the territory of the Moabites,

who consider them as hostile and dread them.f They

have acquired beautiful and extensive abodes, which

they enjoy in comfort and abundance, and where they

form a very populous kingdom.g But they keep apart

from other nations, since God has assigned to them a

peculiar position and vocation.h They are divided in

tribes, all of which are mutually at peace.i Their

monarchy has already distinguished itself by many feats

of arms,k and they have thus obtained very considerable


a xxiv. 17, tw ynb lk rqrqv.                  e xxii. 5; xxiii. 22; xxiv. 8.

b 2 Sam. viii 2; see notes on             f xxii. 3-6, 11.

xxiv. 3-9, 15-17.                                            g xxiii. 10; xxiv. 5-7.

c Comp. xxiv. 8 and Ps. xviii.                        h xxiii. 9, Nkwy ddbl Mf Nh.

38-43.                                                             i xxiv. 2, vyFbwl Nkw lxrWy

d See infra, Sect. 14.                                     k xxiv. 7b, vtklm xWntv.

            THE DATE OF THE COMPOSITION.                    45


power, which they exercise with stern determination and

unbending energy.a They are particularly illustrious

through an exalted and far-famed king, who, besides

discomfiting other contumacious as foes, has humbled and

crushed the Moabites.b

            There is, therefore, in this portion, no feature which

leads beyond the rule of David, and which would not

even accord with the time of Saul, if this king could be

deemed sufficiently distinguished to be compared to a

star.' If the words, ‘A people that dwelleth apart, and

is not reckoned among the nations,’c imply an allusion

to Israel's theocratic constitution, the result is not

altered. For that idea was familiar to the people even

in the period of the Judges. It was clearly conveyed

in Gideon's answer, when he refused the offered crown;d

and it was by Samuel insisted upon even with a certain

vehemence,e although after the actual establishment of

the monarchy, it naturally suffered various and essential


            Those who fail to separate the later additions from the

original Book, are naturally unable to arrive at a well-

established conclusion. This fundamental neglect alone

could have misled one of the most keen-sighted and

appreciative scholars so far as to find in our section ‘a

spirit bent down by the people's misery,’ and ‘the picture

of an empire grievously harassed and imperilled by

enemies near and distant,’ and, for this reason, to place

the Book in the eighth century.g Where, throughout

the whole of the Old Testament, is there a spirit so

joyous and hopeful, so confident and resolute?h It could


a xxiii. 24; xxiv. 8, 9.                         f See notes on xxiii. 7-10; comp.

b xxiv. 17.                                                       Comm. on Exod., p. 330.

c xxiii. 9, bwHty xl Myvgbv.                    g Ewald, Jahrbuecher, viii. 21,

d Judg. viii. 22, 23.                                         22, 24, 28.

e 1 Sam. viii. 6, 7 ; x. 18, 19.                        h See infra, Sect. 14.



not escape that scholar's fine literary taste, how materially

the terse and almost epigrammatic precision of Balaam's

utterances differs from the flowing fulness of prophetic

speech in the time of Isaiah; but drawn by that original

error into the most singular assumptions, he ventures

the opinion that the author designedly imitated that

older manner of ‘brief, abrupt, sharply defined words:’

as if Balaam's prophecies were ‘imitations’ in any sense,

and not rather among the freest and purest creations ever

produced by an original mind. Nor is there, in the

authentic parts of the piece, any indication that Balaam

‘announces Israel's military achievements from David to

Hezekiah;’a for it would be strange indeed if the author

had treated, with copiousness and ardour, the time of

the early monarchy, which for him would have been in

the remote past, while alluding to his own age in an

appendix, and with a few obscure if not incoherent

words, little worthy of the momentous events of the

Assyrian period. And yet it is the Assyrian period to

which, for the untenable reason stated,b most critics have

assigned the Book of Balaam, as if that age alone could

have produced a work of art so perfect in form and matter.c


a Knobel, Numeri, 121, 127.                       Myhlx wrd, which is the explana-

b Comp. xxiv. 22, 24.                                    tion of lx txrb Nybh, is, in the

c So Gramberq, Religions-Id., ii.                Chronicler's view, a priestly and not

348-356 (in the reign of Heze-                   a prophetic function; moreover, Uz-

kiah'); Bohlen, Gen., p. cxxxv.;                     ziah cannot be the ‘star’ of xxiv.

Lengerke, Kenaan, i. 582 (about n.c.          17, see notes in loc.); Davidson, In-

720); Vaihinger, in Herzog's Real-             trod. to the Old Test., i. 337, 338

Enc., ii. 238; Schultz, Alttestam.                 (in ‘the, first half of the eighth cen-

Theol., ii. 3; comp. i. 472, 473;                   tury,’ when ‘traditional matter had

Hitzig, Gesch. d. Volkes Isr., i. 226;           become incorporated with the his- 

Fuerst, Bib]. Liter., ii. 227, 230 (‘in           torical groundwork’); Kuenen, Re-

the early part of Uzziah's reign,'                   ligion of Israel, i. 102, 181, 208, etc.;

even naming as the author that                     but according to Oort, 1. c., pp. 81-

kings counsellor, Zechariah; comp. 118, on uncertain conjectures, under

2 Chron. xxvi. 5, where, however,    Jeroboam II.


            THE DATE OF THE COMPOSITION.                    47


            No less open to objections is the view which places

the Book in a time anterior to David; those who try to

uphold this opinion are compelled not only to disregard

all intrinsic evidences above pointed out,a but to have

recourse to the most strained interpretations, contrary

alike to language and history.b But least of all is it

possible to maintain that this section was written in the

age of Moses. For if so, how shall we understand the

mode of its composition? Assuming an historical founda-

tion of the narrative, however slight, that is, assuming

that a heathen seer, at the express request of a heathen

king, pronounced some such blessings and prophecies as

we read in the Book; how did those utterances find

their way into a national work of the Hebrews? It

has been seriously asserted that the whole of this ac-

countd was written by Balaam himself with a view of

setting forth his claims upon Israel's gratitude, or by

his immediate disciples, whom he instructed in magic,

and that it was by Moses, or the compiler of the Penta-

teuch embodied in his work just as he had received it.e

Certainly, unless, as ancient interpreters did not hesitate

to do, refuge be taken to a direct and literal inspiration,

this portion, as it now lies before us, cannot possibly have

been composed without the co-operation of Balaam.


a Pp. 42, 43.                                                   10-17 is placed by Bunsen in the

b F. i., Bunsen, Bibelwerk, v.                        time of David, and xxiv. 20-24 in

597-609: 'the kernel of the epic'                 that of Sennacherib and King Heze-

(xxii. 2-xxiv. 9) was compiled in                 kiah, we. 701).

Shilo, in the time of Joshua or a                  c Comp. Oort, 1. c., pp. 48-81.

little later, prompted by the first en-           d Num. xxii.-xxiv.

thusiasm and popular elevation of               e So Steudel; see Hengstenberg,

the young republic; which conjec-   Geschiehte Bileam's and seine Weis-

ture the author supports by an im-               sagungen, pp. 18, 214; Fabricii

possible conception of the words                Pseudepigraph. Veter. Testament.,

vklm GGxm Mryv (xxiv. 7; see notes        ii. 105; and similarly Justi, Hezel,

in loc. However, the passage xxiv.               and others.



Omitting, for the present, the incident on the road,a in

which, besides the angel, no one was concerned except

Balaam and his beast, since his servants and the ambas-

sadors are not noticed in the transaction; there remain

the questions to be answered: Did Balaam write down

the speeches after their delivery, since they were not

prepared by him, but are represented as Divine sugges-

tions of the moment, almost independent of the prophet's

spontaneity? Or were they transcribed by some Moabite

or Midianite present, having retained them in his memory

with all but miraculous fidelity? Again, in which

language were they delivered? In the classical Hebrew

in which we possess them, or in some Mesopotamian or

Aramaic dialect? And how did one who was not a

Hebrew attempt and contrive to write in a spirit so

thoroughly and so distinctively Hebrew?

            Some of these questions engaged even Jewish writers in

early times, without, however, being by them advanced

towards an acceptable conclusion. Thus Josephus charac-

teristically praises Moses for his impartiality and truth-

fulness in not appropriating to himself this beautiful

composition, as he might easily have done without fear

of detection, but setting it down in the name of Israel's

enemy, and thus securing for Balaam eternal fame. But

then the historian dismisses the matter with the wavering

remark: ‘Let everyone think of these points as he

pleases.’b  Philo, likewise touching hardly more than

the outskirts of the subject, evidently evidently supposes that

Balaam pronounced his speeches in Hebrew, for he

believes--and this view has been gravely repeated by

later writers in a hundred forms-that 'Balaam, without

at all understanding the words which, he uttered--spoke


               a xxii. 22-35.           b Josephus, Antiq., IV. vi. 13.

            THE DATE OF THE COMPOSITION.                    49


everything that was put into his mouth;’ for ‘God

throughout guided his speech and governed his tongue,

so that his own words were unintelligible to him.’a This

expedient is still more clearly insisted upon in the

Talmud and the Midrashim by maintaining that God

directed Balaam's language 'as a man directs animals by

attaching an iron bit to the bridle, and forces them to

go wherever he pleases;’b it has been repeated by many

modern writers, who pointedly observe that ‘God con-

trolled Balaam's articulation of speech not otherwise than

He managed those of his ass;'c and it has been eloquently

developed by high-minded critics and scholars into such

doctrines as these: ‘The prophet, even if humanly intent

upon a perversity, is compelled by God to say the very

opposite, so that God, after His own will, turns the word

in his mouth;'d or expressed with more subtle delicacy

‘The Divine message, irresistibly overpowering Balaam's

baser spirit, and struggling within him, was delivered in

spite of his own sordid resistance.'e Leaving this matter to

the verdict of reason and common sense, we must further

ask: Who, in the time of Moses, furnished a copy of

Balaam's speeches to the Hebrews, from whom, it might

be supposed, they would have been kept with the most

scrupulous care, as nothing could so powerfully stimulate

their courage in the warfare supposed to be imminent?

The same difficulty applies to the suggestion, that Moses

borrowed the whole piece from the ‘Annals of the

Moabites.'f  How were these documents accessible to


a Philo, Vit. Mos., ii. 49, 51,                        c With reference to Ps. xxxii. 9.

Opp. ii., pp. 123, 125.                                   d Ewald, Jahrbuecber, viii. 16,

b Talm., Sanhedr. 105b; Midr.                      ‘so dass Gott ihm wie im Munde

Rabb., hum. xx. 8, 10, vyp Mqyf                noch das Wort umdrehe.'

kv vmqypv, or svnylk Ntvnw Mdxk      e Stanley, Jewish Church, i. 193.

kv hmhbh ypb; comp.. also Yalk.          f Jerusalem, Betrachtungen fiber

Shim., § 767; Rashi on Num. xxiii. die vornehmsten Wahrheiten der Re-

16, ‘kv txzh hmywh xyh hmv, etc.       ligion, iv, 1, pp. 382, sqq., and others.



Moses? and were they written in Hebrew? for no one

will seriously contend that Balaam's oracles, in which

every shade of expression is important, are translations.

A great divine has endeavoured to answer the question,

‘How did Israel hear of the prophecy?’ by the counter-

questions, ‘Was it not heard in Moab, and was not Israel

encamped before Moab? Did not Balaam live in the

eastern mountain? And did be not perish by the hands

of Israel?' But all this does not touch the difficulty.

No Moabite would have communicated those oracles to

the Hebrews, and these had no intercourse with Balaam.

Yet even this has been confidently asserted and speciously

supported, and conjecture has reared the following struc-

ture. When Balaam, it is urged, found his ambition

and avarice unsatisfied among the Moabites, he tried

his chances with the Hebrews, to whose gratitude he

believed he had acquired a right. He made his way into

their camp, but was coldly received by Moses, who

thoroughly understood his impiousness. He gave, how-

ever, to the elders of the Hebrews, every information

necessary for the composition of the whole of this section.

Or combining several anterior hints, some surmise, as

an alternative, that Balaam, filled with intense hatred

against the Hebrews, who had caused him to lose signal

honours and rewards, repaired at once into the camp of

their enemies, the Midianites, and fell fighting on their

side: thus his prophecies came into the possession of the

Israelites, and were, from the foreign tongue in which

they were written, rendered by Moses into Hebrew. It

is indeed admitted that these circumstances are nowhere

alluded to in the Bible, but they are maintained to

possess ‘the highest moral or psychological probability,’

since Balaam would surely not have allowed an oppor-


            a Herder, Geist der Ebraischen Poesie, ii. 184.

                                    THE AUTHOR.                                  51


tunity, apparently so promising, to pass without profit to

his selfishness.a Is it necessary to assail aerial fabrics,

which a breath suffices to demolish? It is enough to

point out, that they rest upon the imaginary foundation

of Balaam's wicked ambition and avarice. Why should

Moses have coldly received a man who had spoken of

Israel with such sincere enthusiasm, had, for their sake,

renounced rewards and distinctions, and had braved the

fretful king's vexation and anger? And would not the

Hebrews, in acknowledgment of his services, have taken

every care to shield him from injury?


                                    12. THE AUTHOR.


THE only possible conclusion is, therefore, that the Book

of Balaam is the production of some gifted Hebrew, who,

availing himself of popular traditions, employed them as

a basis for conveying his views regarding Israel's great-

ness and mission by means of prophecies skilfully inter-

woven with the story transmitted from earlier ages.

            It is not unlikely that these chapters were composed as

part of some larger conception. Like many other prophets,

the author may have devoted himself to historiography,

and his work may, with the exception of this precious

fragment, have been lost like the histories of the prophets

Nathan, Gad, and Isaiah, and the prophecies of Ahijah the

Shilonite and Iddo the seer,b and many other books.c

            But the author is not the Jahvist, nor the Elohist, nor

the ‘theocratic’ writer, and certainly not the final com-

piler or redactor of the Book of Numbers, who blended


a Hengst., Bil., 217 sqq.; Baum-                 Can. Cook's Holy Bible, on xxii. 28;

gart., Pentat., ii. 378; Kurtz, Gesch.           Koehler, Lehrbuch der Bibl. Gesch.

des Alt. Bund., ii. 503; Vaihinger               des Alt. Test., i. 326; etc.

in Herzog's Real-Enc., ii. 237;                     b 1 Chron. xxix. 29; 2 Chron. ix.

Reinke, Beitraege, iv. 218, 219;                  29; xii. 15; xxvi. 22.

Lange, Bibelwerk, ii. 308, 310, 317;          c See Comm. on Gen., p. 85.

52                    BALAAM'S IDENTITY.


and harmonised the Levitical narrative with the Levitical

legislation.a All the ordinary criteria fail in the present

instance, and if mechanically applied, lead inevitably to

erroneous inferences.b This portion, which is sui generis,

was by the compiler of the Book found in circulation;

he saw that it admirably illustrated his own ideas con-

cerning Israel's election and glorious destiny; and he had

no difficulty in assigning to it a place in the great work

of Hebrew antiquities.c For as true art, free from conven-

tional restrictions and narrow tendencies, and rising into

the sphere of a common humanity, finds everywhere a

ready welcome, and is enjoyed by all pure minds alike,

the story of Balaam and Balak is not strange or incon-

gruous even as a part of the specifically national and

priestly Book of Numbers.


                        13. BALAAM'S IDENTITY.


            We may pause for a moment to refer to a subject, to

which some have, perhaps, attached too much importance.


   a Even Knobel (l. c. p. 127) ad-                 results, only be an additional proof of

mits that, though many arguments   their later date.  Some (as Schultz,

point to the Jahvist, the latter can-               Alttestamentliche Theologie, i. 88,

not be considered as the author,                  89), seem disposed to attribute both

since the piece 'abounds in peculi-              accounts indiscriminately to the

arities both of matter and style.'                  Elohist--that is, to Ewald's ‘Author

    b Thus they have given rise to                    of the Book of Origins,' the alleged

the almost paradoxical opinion that             foundation of the present Penta-

the tradition concerning Balaam, up-          teuch and of the Book of Joshua-

on which this section is founded,                which is an abandoned view; while

was the later one, while the more                Ewald himself traces this section to

unfavourable accounts given in sub-            'the fifth narrator of the Urgeschich-

sequent portions of Numbers are of            ten,' the author of Isaac's blessing

earlier date (so Knobel, 1. c., pp.                 (Gesch. des Volk. Isr., ii. 219, sqq.;

125-1277, and many others): we                 Jahrbuecher, viii. 3, sqq.; see notes

have tried to prove the contrary                   on xxii. 5-14; comp. also Schrader

from the natural laws of historical             in Schonkel's Bibel-Lexic., ii. 455;

development (see supra, pp. 34-38).           Kuenen, Relig. of Isr, ii. 158, 182-

If, indeed, the statements in Num.               200; etc,).

xxxi. 8, 16, are from the Elohist, this          c See, however, notes on xxii. 2

would, according to the most recent           -4, Phil. Rem.

                        BALAAM'S IDENTITY.                                53


Whether the Biblical Balaam is an historical personage or

not, appears to be of very subordinate moment. Apart

from the literary and historical value of his prophecies,

our interest centres chiefly in the fact that, inspired by

Israel's God and pronounced in His name, those speeches

are put into the mouth of a pagan seer. The identity of

this favoured man does not concern the essence of the

Book of Balaam, although we are justified in supposing

that the author's genius, which is throughout so wonder-

fully manifest, doubtless chose a fit character for his

oracular utterances. Unless a free and absolute fiction is

assumed, such a character could only be considered suit-

able, if his name and life, familiar to the people through

old tradition, were in their minds associated with famous

displays of prophetic oratory going back to remote ages.

That the seer was a contemporary of the author cannot be

allowed, as in this case the unhistorical character of the

story would at once have been betrayed. But this objection

applies to the hypothesis which has repeatedly been pro-

posed of late, that Balaam is identical with the well-known

Arabic fabulist Lokman, of whom the Koran remarks,

that ‘God bestowed wisdom’ on him, and whom it credits

with the purest form of monotheism;a who is said to have

written ten thousand maxims and parables, ‘each of which

is more precious than the whole world;’ and in reference to

whom the Arabic adage is still current, ‘Nobody should

presume to teach anything to Lokman.'b This writer is

considered to have lived in David's time, and was, there-

fore, coeval with our author; for all that is related of

another and much earlier Lokman, an Arabic diviner of

the tribe of Ad, who is supposed to have reached an age

of seven times eighty years, and to have been a nephew


a Koran, xxxi. 11, 12, 'Give not                   b Comp. Freitagii Proverbia, i.

a partner unto God,' etc.                                235, 250,401; ii. 698.

54                    BALAAM'S IDENTITY.


or cousin of Job, or a great-nephew of Abraham, is

nothing but idle legend. It cannot be denied that

several plausible coincidences seem to lend some support

to the conjecture of Balaam's identity with the younger

Lokman. The namea signifies in Arabic ‘the devourer,’

as Balaam does in Hebrew;b for it is narrated that the

former was not more conspicuous for wisdom than

voracity.c Lokman's father was Baura,d as Balaam's

father was Beor.e Lokman is by Arabic writers counted

among the descendants of Nahor, Abraham's brother,

who lived in Mesopotamia, as Balaam did; although he

is more generally described as an Abyssinian slave who,

sold into Canaan during David's reign, was in personal

intercourse with this king, adopted the religion of the

Hebrews, and was buried in Ramlah or Ramah, amidst

seventy prophets of Israel. In a Hebrew Book of Enoch,f

the statement is found that, in the language of the Arabs,

Balaam was called Lokman.g However, all these analo-

gies are not conclusive. The basis on which the conjec-

ture mainly rests, is the assumption that, as the Koran

mentions ‘nearly all’ the persons named in the Penta-

teuch, it is not likely to have omitted Balaam, and that,

as Balaam and Lokman have etymologically the same

meaning, they are really the same person.h It is needless


a  XXXXX                                                      be a corruption of Nmql Comp.

b See p. 29.                                                     D'Herbelot, Biblioth. Oriental., pp.

c According to wabl (Koran,                         516-518; Roediger, Hall. Liter.

516-518 ; Roediger, Hall. Liter.                  Zeit., 1843, No. 95, pp. 151, sqq.;

p. 385), however,   XXXXX means Derenbourg, Fables de Loqman le

‘shrewd observer and counsellor.'               Sage, pp. 5-10, and Journ. Asiat.,

d XXXXX                                                      xi., 1867, pp. 91-94; Wahl, Koran,

e rOfB;.                                                           pp. 385, 692; Knobel, Numeri, p.

f jvnH rps; comp. Sengelmann,                126 ; etc.

Mischle Sandabar, 1842.                              h Comp. Derenb., Fables de L., pp.

g For the word Nynqvl, which oc-                6, 7: Bal. is ‘la sagesse humaine qui

curs in that Book, is supposed to                 voudrait renier larevelation Divine.

                        BALAAM'S IDENTITY.                                55


to point out the precarious nature of the inference drawn

from the silence of the Koran;a and as to the etymology,

it is difficult to see an affinity between a great seer and

‘a voracious eater.’b The same traditions which make

Lokman a contemporary of David, represent him also as

a contemporary of Pythagoras and the teacher of

Empedocles, and even make him identical with AEsop.c

They record, moreover, expressly and all but unanimously,

that he is to be regarded as a sage (hakim), but not as a

prophet (nabi);d and yet, if any point of comparison

between the Hebrew and the Arab is at all to be insisted

upon, it is the reputation of prophet enjoyed by Balaam

--of a prophet so eminently endowed with supernatural

gifts, that the king of Moab could say: ‘I know that he

whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest

is cursed;’e and that a great Hebrew writer could

attribute to him sublime utterances describing events

of a distant future!


a However, Mohammedan doctors Lokman--or Balaam--an Indian,

generally refer to Balaam that much           identifying the name with the Etrus-

discussed passage in the Koran (vii.            can Lucumo, which is the Sanscrit

174, 175), 'Relate to them also the             Lokamana, the seer.

history of him to whom we gave                  c Comp. Maxim. Planudes, sop.

our signs, but who departed from                d Comp. Beidhawi, Comm. on

them, wherefore Satan followed and           Koran, 1. c.

seduced him ... he inclined to the                e Num. xxii. 6.

earth and obeyed his own desires:               f If we may estimate Lokman's

he was like a dog who always puts   abilities from the little collection of

out his tongue, whether you drive                Arabic fables which bear his name,

him away or let him alone' (comp.   and which, doubtful in origin and

Sale, Koran, p. 135). These remarks           date, are indifferent and compara-

would certainly not apply to Lok-                tively late imitations of AEsop and

man, but agree fully with the spirit  Syntipas, he little deserves the dis-

of the laterviews concerning Balaam.         tinction, so eagerly claimed for him,

b About the probable meaning of                 of being considered capable of com-

the name MfAl;Bi see notes on xxii. 2           posing prophecies like those of Ba-

--4. Hitzig (Gesch. des Volk. Isr.,                laam. It is enough to mention two

i. 226), with his usual delight in                   curious suggestions--one very old,

uncommon combination, considers            that Balaam is the Elihu of the




IT is true, no other Hebrew prophet ever spoke of Israel

in terms of such unalloyed approval and enthusiasm.

All public teachers, from the earliest down to the latest,

inveighed bitterly against Israel's vices and misdeeds,

their idolatry and constant rebellion.a Is there among

them one who calls the Hebrews, without reserve

and without qualification, a people all of whom are

‘righteous?’b Is there one who declares, without ming-

ling with his praise a shade of reproach, ‘God beholdeth

not iniquity in Jacob?’c The Hebrew nation is, in this

Book of Balaam, indeed idealised. It is so beloved by God,

that it resists all imprecations, which recoil upon those

who dare to utter them;d while blessings once pronounced

are unchangeably beneficent, and bless those also by whom

they are invoked.e The Hebrews require no arts of sooth-

saying and magic, since they receive from God Himself

all needful revelations.f Thus placed under His watch-     

ful protection, they are without an equal upon the earth

and to be compared to no other nation.g They enjoy

peace and comfort and abundance.h Undaunted and

unconquerable,i they form a well-established kingdom,

ruled by glorious sovereigns, triumphing over mighty


Book of Job; and the other recently            Midianite, as bas been variously

proposed, that he is the first king of            assumed to support some pre-con-

Edom, Bela the son of Beor (Gen. ceived theory.

xxxvi. 32; so Noeldeke, Unter-                    a See notes on xxiii. 7-10, 18-

suehungen, p. 87, who has ‘not the 24.

slightest doubt’ as to the correctness          b xxiii. 10, MyriwAy;.

of his conjecture, because Jerome              c xxiii. 21.

mentions, in Moab, two towns Dan-           d xxiii. 8; xxiv. 9b.

naba, supposed to correspond with            e xxiii. 19, 20.

hbAhAn;Di, the residence of Bela: but              f xxiii. 23.

the Balaam of our Book is a Meso- g xxiii. 9, 21; xxiv. 1, 19.

potamian or Aramaean, and neither h xxiv: 5-7.

an Edomite, nor a Moabite, nor a                 j xxiii. 24; xxiv. 9.

            ISRAEL AND THE 1300K OF BALAMIT.            57


foes, and rising through their fall.a In a word, no stranger

can wish for himself a more enviable lot than to share

that of Israel.b

            There are, indeed, in other prophetic works also, glow-

ing descriptions of a time when the Hebrews ‘shall not

do evil nor act perversely,’ and when they shall live in

undisturbed prosperity and the full knowledge of God

under a wise and powerful monarch.c But all those

descriptions refer to a future more or less remote, or

are presented as ‘Messianic’ hopes, with which faithful

patriots desired to comfort their contemporaries in times

of despondency and oppression. The Book of Balaam,

on the contrary, portrays a happy present. God's love

and the people's piety, the power of the nation and the

happiness of individuals, are realities; they are not

objects of sanguine expectation, but of secure possession;

and no shadow of grief or lament darkens the joyous

serenity and brightness in the picture of Israel's privi-

leged destiny. Not merely does the Hebrew writer, with

peculiar fitness, put into the foreign seer's mouth only

praises of the Hebrews, to show that, however grave and

numerous the failings may be which their own leaders

are compelled to reprove, they are spotless in the

stranger's eye; but they are indeed spotless, because 

they are God's chosen people, and deserve their election

by their virtue and righteousness. Our author is not

singular in distinguishing between the real and the ideal

Israel. Another and much later prophet exalts in the

‘servant of God’ that nobler portion of the people, which

proves worthy of its great mission.d But drawn in a time


a xxiv. 7b, 8b, 17.    b   xxiii. 10.                   d Isaiah x1i. 8-20 ; xlii. 1-4;

c Comp. Isa. ix. 5, 6, 9; xi. 1-                        x1ix. 1-4 ; iii. 13-liii. 12, etc.;

10; Jer. xxiii. 5, 6; Hos. ii. 20-                     comp. Gesenius and Knobel in loc.;

25; Zech. iii. 8-10; etc.                                 see Comm. on Levit. i. pp. 296, 297.



of political misfortune, this servant of God, persecuted and

suffering, bears the guilt of many; whereas in this Book,

the whole of Israel participates alike in the fear of God

and in worldly happiness.a How great and remarkable

must have been the age which, could produce such a

work! The proud consciousness of a special mission was

possible without engendering a baneful exclusiveness.

The guides and teachers, while cherishing the hope that

a pure worship of Jahveh was taking root in the people's

hearts, considered that other nations also knew and

revered Israel's God. Secure in His grace and direction,

they were certain that He did not confine His revelation

to them alone, but readily granted it to the pure and

noble of all races. And in addition to this freedom and

largeness of mind, they enjoyed a political existence well-

guarded and guarded and honoured, and an intellectual culture which

had almost attained that highest standard which blends

simplicity and elevation.


            15. ANALOGY OF THE BOOK OF RUTH.


CONSIDERABLE light is thrown upon this story of Balaam

by an analogous and hardly less remarkable work of the

Old Testament--the Book of Ruth. In literary excel-

lence, both may, on the whole, be regarded as equal.

The Book of Ruth is perhaps as decidedly the most

perfect idyl of antiquity, as the Book of Balaam is the

most skilful combination of epic composition and pro-

phecy ever achieved. Both in the one and the other, the

scene is partially laid in Moab, and some of the principal

figures are Moabites. And lastly, both works originated

about the same time, and, what is more important still,

both breathe the same spirit. Is this indeed the case, it


                        a See notes on xxiii. 7-10 , 18-24.


            ANALOGY OF THE BOOK OF RUTH.                 59


might be asked in surprise? Does not the tendency of

both appear wholly antagonistic in the cardinal point? Are

not, in this section, Israel and Moab arrayed against each

other in strong hostility,a whereas the Book of Ruth ex-

hibits them in completest harmony? The reply is, how-

ever, obvious: that circumstance is not the cardinal point;

for that concerns the two countries merely in their ex-

ternal and ever changing political relations, which de-

pended on multifarious accidents in the distribution of

power and the personal disposition of rulers. The most

prominent feature is that spirit of liberty and equality

which pervades the Book of Ruth as it pervades the Book

of Balaam. The distinction between Hebrew and Gentile

is, in both, all but effaced. In the one, a pious and affec-

tionate Moabite woman is delineated with the same im-

partial love and truth, as, in the other, a highly-gifted and

God-inspired Mesopotamian prophet. It is the object of

the Book of Ruth to trace the origin of Israel's most

glorious king from the devoted Moabitess, of whom the

Hebrew women in Bethlehem said, that she was better to

her bereaved Hebrew mother-in-law than seven sons.b

The author lived at a time when marriages with foreigners

were not yet considered an abomination,c and when surely

it would have been impossible to frame or to enforce the

rigorous command: 'An Ammonite and a Moabite shall

not enter into the congregation of the Lord, even to their

tenth generation shall they not enter for ever;'d for King

David was the third in descent from Ruth.e We are


a xxii. 3, 6, xxiv. 14--17.                               through Eglon, the Judge, whom it

b Ruth iv. 15.                                                  regards as the grandson of that king

c See Comment. on Levit. ii.                        (Talm. Sanh. 105b), so that, accord-

pp. 354 sqq.                                                   ing to that conception, David would

d Deut. xxiii. 4.                                              still more fully and more strikingly

e iv. 17, 21, 22. Jewish tradition                  represent the union of the Moabite

makes Balak the ancestor of Ruth               and the Hebrew.




inclined to conclude that the Book of Ruth was written

before David's terrible war against the Moabites. These

had been subdued by Saul,a and appear, after that time,

to have long lived with the Hebrews in amicable inter-

course. Their king certainly was well-disposed towards

David, who, when compelled to flee before Saul, entrusted

to him his parents for protection.b Besides Moab, Beth

lehem is exclusively the scene of the Book, which neither

mentions nor alludes to Jerusalem. The descendants of

Ruth and Boaz, on the other hand, are not enumerated

beyond David, since the list does not include even his

illustrious son Solomon. The Book may, therefore, have

been composed at the period when David was still dwell-

ing in Hebron as the king of Judah, and yet was already

sufficiently famous and conspicuous to call forth such a

genealogical narrative. But even after his sanguinary

victories over the Moabites, a work like that would by

no means have been impossible. Conquered tribes in

those times recovered their strength with incredible

rapidity, and political feuds were often forgotten within

the same generation. Indeed we find among the later

military chiefs of David, besides other foreigners, also

‘Jithmah the Moabite.’c

            We are thus justified in considering the Book of Ruth,

like the Book of Balaam, as a testimony to that lofty

spirit of toleration. and common brotherhood which, in  

the youthful and vigorous times of David, animated

Israel, and which, supported and nourished by that

literary genius and refinement manifest in both works,

might have led to the fairest fruits of a universal

humanity, had not, too soon afterwards, national com-


a 1 Sam. xiv. 47.                                 c ybixAOm.;ha hmAt;yi, 1 Chron. xi. 46;

b 1 Sam. xxii. 3, 4.                             comp. Noeldeke, Die Amalek., p. 20.


            FAME AND CHARACTER OF THE BOOK.         61


plications and calamities tempted and led the minds of

the people into a different and more solitary path.a




IT is not surprising to find that the Book of Balaam

soon attained a great celebrity, and was ever respected

as a high authority. In the last address of Jacob,


a It is difficult to understand how                 single trait and incident of the story.

the conjecture could gain ground                It is enough to urge again the fact

that the Book of Ruth was written               that marriages with foreigners are

at a very late period, at a time                      not held to be reproachful, and that

when the national life of Israel had there is, in the whole narrative, no

already ceased,' during the exile,                 vestige of an attempt at palliating

or even in the age of Nehemiah (so             such an alliance in the case of David's

Ewald, Bertheau, Geiger, Urschrift,          ancestors; in addition to which we

pp. 49-52, 299, Meier, Schrader,                may point to the markedly archaic

and others). The principal argument            character of the language (e.g.,

adduced by the advocates of this                  MyrifAn;, in ii. 21, used instead of

view is derived from the words in                tOrfAn;, comp. vers. 8, 22, 23; the

Ruth iv. 7, lxrWyb Mynpl txzv, anomalous combination Mh,yTew;

which they translate, ‘and this was   19), applying to Naomi and Ruth

formerly the custom in Israel.' But (see Grammar, § xxii. 1. 3, 6);

even if this version should be correct,        though we would lay no stress on

and if the term Mynpl does here not           such forms as yTim;Wa and T;d;rayA.

rather mean ‘already in’ or ‘from                 3, 4, instead of Td;rayA and T;d;rayA, as

olden times,' so that the custom still           they occur in later compositions also

existed in the author's age, as seems           (comp. Gram., § xxviii. l.a). Bleek,

to be confirmed by the addition im-            (Einleitung, p. 354) admits at least

mediately following, hdvfth txzv    that the Book was written before

lxrWyb, ‘and this is the custom in             the legislation of Deuteronomy, and

Israel;' we might justly object that               Noeldeke (Alttestam. Liter., p. 45)

in the three or four generations                   that it was composed during the

which elapsed between the time of rule of the house of David; while

Ruth and the reign of David, cus-                 Keil (Einleitung, p. 437) places it in

toms may have considerably changed.         the reign of this king or shortly

However, even if the Book inclu-                after it. [We may here remind the

ded many other obscure or am-                   reader that, in references to our

biguous phrases besides this one,                Hebrew Grammar, the common or

they would have no weight whatever            Arabic numbers of sections point to

in the face of that tone and spirit of            the First Part, the Roman numbers

antiquity which characterise every to the Second Part of that work.]



written in the time of the divided kingdom'a some pas-

sages are imitated, and some almost verbally incorporated;

they are those which describe the people's strength and

majesty, and are, in the later production, applied to

Judah, then the most powerful tribe.b Isaac's blessing,c

composed in the ninth century, seems altogether to have

been constructed on the model of these prophecies, with

which it coincides in the main idea of Israel's inalien-

able election, shielded by God's blessing for ever, and

touched by no curse.d In reference to Balaam's speeches,

the prophet Micah is in full agreement with our author.e

Other prophets afford proofs how much their views on

human life and happiness were moulded on utterances of

Balaam.f  It is not improbable that the important and

significant words in the Jahvistic records of the Pen-

tateuch, ‘I will bless those that bless thee, and curse

him that curses thee,'g are borrowed from this section.h

Jeremiah, in his oracle on Moab, reproduces Balaam's

chief prediction with respect to the same people.i And

lastly, considering the force and sublimity of these

prophecies, ‘the star’ which ‘cometh out of Jacob,’

could not fail to be raised into a Messianic type.k

            And, indeed, this Book of Balaam is invested with an


a See Comm. on Gen., pp. 722-                    i Comp. xxiv. 17, and Jer. xlviii.

724.                                                                45, 47; see notes on xxiv. 15-17.

b Comp. Num. xxiii. 24, xxiv. 9,                   k xxiv. 17; see notes on xxiv. 14

and Gen. xlix. 9 ; Num.. xxiv. 17,                 -17:, comp. also xxiv. 3, and 2 Sam.

and Gen. xlix. 10.                                          xxiii. 1, see notes on xxiv. 3-9;

c Gen. xxvii.                                                    xxiv. 10-14, and Amos vii. 10-17,

d See notes on xxii. 5-14.                             see notes on xxiv. 10-14; xxiv.

e Mic. vi. 5; see supra„ pp. 4, 34;                  18, 19, and Obad. 17-19; xxiv.

comp. also Mic. vii. 14, and notes               21, and Obad. 3, 4, Jer. xlix. 16.

on xxiii. 7-10.                                                It would, therefore, be hardly cor-

f Hab. i. 3, 13; see notes on              rect to maintain that Balaam--that

xxiii.. 18-24.                                                  is, the author of these prophecies--

g Gen. xii. 3.                                                   ‘left no enduring mark on the his-

h xxiv. 9,                                                         tory of the Jewish Church.'

FAME AND CHARACTER OF THE BOOK.                     63


uncommon originality, which takes a powerful hold upon

all readers, and for which there is no exact parallel in the

whole of the Old Testament. The functions of Hebrew

prophets were sufficiently multifarious, but no seer of

Israel was ever employed for such an office as Balaam. We

have instances of prophets being consulted with regard

to the issue of military expeditions,a and we have many

instances of pious men interceding for others by prayer,

or pronouncing blessings and curses, the effects of which

were considered infallible.b But there is no other

example of a prophet who, requested to pronounce a

definite and prescribed speech, is forced, ‘heav'n controlled,’

to express the very opposite again and again. There is, 

in the whole tenor of the Book, something peculiarly

mysterious, which may perhaps be best described by the

Greek term daimo<nion. That singular impression is

strengthened, if it is not partly created, by the disposition

and conduct of Balak. To him the Pharaoh of the

Exodus, among all the Old Testament characters, bears

the greatest resemblance. The king of Egypt rises

against the God of Israel, the king of Moab against

Israel, God's people. Both employ magicians; the former,

to prove his own gods of equal power with the God of

the Hebrews; the latter, to overcome the Hebrews by

any god the enchanter might choose to invoke. The one

asks, at the beginning of the struggle, ‘Who is the Lord

whose voice I should obey to let Israel go?’c and

is finally annihilated by His power; the other, imagining

that he can vanquish God's elected people by sorcery, is

fated to hear, from the lips of his own chosen instrument,


a See 1 Ki. xxii. 5-28; 2 Chron.                    b See notes on xxii. 5-14; Comm.

xviii. 5-27; 2 Ki. iii. 11; comp.                    on Gen., pp. 720-722; on L-vit.

1 Sam. xxiii. 2, 4, 10, 11; xxx. 8;                 i. P. 301. i

etc.                                                                  c Exod. v. 2.

64                                LIMITS.


that they are invincible through their extraordinary rela-

tion to that omnipotent God. In either case there are

arrayed, on the one side, defiance and despair, and on the

other, an awful power which shatters all resistance. But

while Pharaoh's contest is accompanied by terrible trials

and catastrophes, a grand repose is spread over this

Book, in which even the subjugation of Moab is seen as

an event of ‘the distant future.’a The one is intended

as an historical picture, to represent a single though

momentous episode; the other is designed to shadow

forth, as it were typically, how God's love constantly

watches over His people, demolishes the malignant

schemes of their enemies, and by His immediate inter-

position even converts contemplated imprecations into

unalterable blessings. It comprises the whole mission

of Israel as the author had conceived it, and the whole

career of Israel as far as he was able to survey it in

his time. It is not history, but a wonderful amalgama-

tion of poetical grace and prophetic fire.


                                    17. LIMITS.


BUT mhde>n a@gan. We would fain preserve calmness of

judgment, even in the fervour of admiration; lest we

resemble that Roman historian, who felt that, while

relating ancient events, ‘somehow his mind became

antique,’b so that he was inclined to accept reports

simply because they were olds In our opinion, the

main charm of the Book of Balaam lies, apart from the

beauty of form, in that sincere universality, which, not

satisfied with teaching the unity of all races theoretical-

ly, as it is taught often enough, makes it a living reality.


a xxiv. 14, 17, Mymyh tyrHxb,                   b Antiquus fit animus.

see on this term notes in loc.                       c Liv. xliii. 13.


                                    LIMITS.                                              65


But what is the intrinsic character of the religious notions

pervading this section? How far do they stand the test

of philosophic examination? In a word, how far have

they permanent and absolute truth? We shall try to

answer these questions plainly and impartially.

            The Hebrew mind, however richly endowed, had its

limits. Hebrew literature, however remarkable, is not,

free from grave deficiencies. The Hebrew mind was

wanting in that ‘dry light’ of reason, which, undimmed

by fancy or enthusiasm, penetrates into the depth and

nature of  things with sober discernment. The Hebrews, 

therefore, never advanced beyond the first rudiments in 

any science. They did not even produce a truly prag-

matic history patiently tracing effect to cause. Unable

to emancipate themselves from the charmed circle of

theocratic conceptions, they knew no other standard of

historical probability than the mechanical principle of

retribution.a The work which approaches nearest to

philosophical speculation--the Book of Job--concludes

with the negative result that man can fathom nothing;b

and the work which displays the greatest independence

of thought--the Book of Ecclesiastes--moves in a scep-

ticism so empty and incoherent that a later time deemed

it necessary to supplement its teaching by some positive

ideas, though these again remain within the old and

narrow boundaries.c The prophetic writings, which ex-

hibit the Hebrew intellect in its brightest glory, reveal

no less prominently its shades and failings. They are

indeed unequalled for ardour and sublimity, noble aspira-

tion and single-minded patriotism. But all these beautiful `


a See Comm. on Levit. ii. pp. 609,               evil, that is understanding;' Job

610.                                                                xxviii. 28.

b ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord,                    c Eccles. xi. 9b; xii. 7,13, 14, have

that is wisdom, and to depart from              been proved to be such additions.

66                                            LIMITS.


qualities are blended with an alloy of self-illusion which,

in a great measure, neutralises their value. The prophets

did not hesitate to come forward as workers of miracles.a

Instead of offering their counsels and exhortations on

their own authority, they represented them--not figura-

tively but literally--as the direct emanations of God,

with whom they believed they had personal communion.

They, consequently, described visions, to which it is im-

possible to attribute any reality.b They had too much

earnestness to introduce merely as an artistic creation

what to them appeared objective truth, and they were not

sufficiently prepared to appreciate the eternal reality of

poetic truth. In their grandest vaticinations they indeed

applied the teleological law, which, with far-reaching

sagacity, connects means and end, and beholds in each

epoch of history an organic link in the great chain of

human development. They composed, therefore, predic-

tions reflecting their ideal of the ultimate happiness of

their own people and of mankind. But these prophecies

were, for the most, part, no more than soaring hopes and

anticipations, magnificent and incomparable if presented

as poetical pictures, but questionable and misleading when

set forth as Divine utterances and, severed from the safe

ground of experience and reflection, involving a reversion


a 2 Ki. ii. 19--22; iii. 17; iv.                          effects of one moment of visionary

32--35, 42-44; v. 10; vi. 6; etc.                    enthusiasm remained at work for

b See Comm. on Lev. i. pp. 439,                   years, the result is practically the

455. Not even the cautious theory of          same as if that state of transport

a recent critic (Kuenen, Relig. of Isr.,        had been permanently continued or

i. pp. 203-207), who grants that ‘the           constantly renewed. The visions,

conviction of being interpreters of             however, are distinct from sym-

Jahveh forced itself upon the pro-               bolical acts, some of which were

phets in a moment of ecstasy,' but               actually carried out (as Jer. six. 1

supposes that their ecstasy was, as              -13, etc.), while others were meant

a rule, confined to that one occasion          and understood as fictitious (as Hos.

of installation, can materially alter              i. 2-9; Jer. xiii. 1-7; xxv. 15-

the view above taken for if the                     29; Ezek. iv. v., etc.


                                    LIMITS                                               67


of the order of nature. The hazy halo in which they are

enveloped is rendered more perplexing and dangerous by

their very grandeur and elevation; and if we survey the

history of the last three thousand years, as far as it was

influenced by prophetic and Messianic writings, we are,

in candour and truthfulness, compelled to admit that the

dim indistinctness, which speaks as with a higher sanction,

has cast many a gloomy shadow on the path of mankind

--steep and rugged at best--and has, perhaps more than

any other obstacle, contributed to delay that universal

peace, goodwill, and brotherhood, which formed the noblest

hopes of those noble minds.

            Applying these tests to the Book of Balaam, we shall

find that, as it is distinguished by all the admirable

characteristics of prophetic literature, so it shares nearly

all its doubtful features. The narrative professes to be

simple history, and yet is charged throughout with

superhuman elements; and it describes, with infinite

skill, the time of David, and yet takes every possible

care to make the reader believe that it is describing the

time of Moses. The author is evidently a man of the

most earnest piety, and. yet he does not scruple to make

Balaam utter words which he contends were put into the

seer's mouth by God. Balaam has constant intercourse

with God as with a familiar, though superior, Being; for

‘God comes to Balaam’ in dreams, and Balaam ‘goes to

meet God’ by day in solitude; God asks Balaam, in

distinct words, special questions, and Balaam receives

from God directions in terms equally explicit.a It is

difficult to see how a pure conception of the spiritual

nature of the Deity can thus be maintained. And,

lastly, a prophet who, in the time of Moses, was able to


            a xxii. 9-12, 20; xxiii. 3, 4, 15, 16; xxiv. 1.

68                                ISRAEL AND MOAB.


predict a king to be born four centuries later, might as well

be considered capable of predicting a teacher to be born

after fourteen or fifteen centuries; and hence the 'star'

that was to come out of Jacob, and the ‘sceptre that

was to rise out of Israel in the distant future,a were

interpreted in the Messianic sense, and applied to one

who surely did not ‘smite the sides of Moab,’ nor

‘destroy all the children of tumult.’ We need not, in

this place, point out the strange devices which were

rendered necessary to bring those terms of actual warfare

and bloodshed into harmony with the most peaceful life

and career;b yet they are only a very small portion of

the injury that has been wrought by the studied ob-

scurity and deceptive form of these and other prophecies.

            The highest boon of mankind is the calm balance of

reason--the holy Swfrosu<nh--and no performance, how-

ever skilful, no genius, however dazzling, can counter-

balance the fatal mischief which may be inflicted by

straying from that Divine light.


                        18. ISRAEL AND MOAB.


IN conclusion we shall briefly sketch the relations

between Israel and Moab down to David's time.

            When the Hebrews, entering upon their expedition of

conquest, advanced from the desert northward and west-

ward, they doubtless intended to settle exclusively in

Canaan proper, in the west of the Jordan.c They

desired to -pass through the territory of the Amorites

‘on the royal road,’ in order to reach that point of the

river where they meant to cross it. King Sihon's un-


a xxiv. 17.                                           Kai> ga>r ou]d ] e]pe<pusto (Ba<lakoj) gh?n

b See notes on xxiv. 15-17.               a@llhn polupragmonei?n tou>j [Ebrai-

c Comp. Joseph. Antiq. IV. vi. 2       ouj, a]phgoreuko<toj tou? qeou? k.t.l.


                        ISRAEL AND MOAB.                                  69


friendly refusal forced them to resistance; in the war

that ensued they were victorious, and obtained large

districts, to which, ere long, the land of the king of

Bashan was added; and then all these provinces, abound-

ing in excellent pastures, were assigned to the cattle-

breeding breeding tribes of Reuben and Gad as their permanent

abodes,a although it is very probable that, in the east of

the Jordan as well as in the west, the heathen popula-

tion was never expelled completely or from every part of

the country.b But the Hebrews neither made any acquisi-

tion in the territory of the Moabites, nor in that of the

Ammonites and Edomites. On this point tradition was

unwavering and uniform,c although it fluctuated in

some subordinate details.d However, the proximity of

the Israelites was by the Moabite king regarded with

such terror,e that he requested a strange seer to curse

them.f A hostile encounter was avoided,g and the con-

tact between the two nations seems to have been most

fatal to the Hebrews themselves who, too easily tempted

into the licentious habits and degrading worship of the

Moabites thenceforth tenaciously clung to the iniquities

of Baal-Peor and Chemosh.h

            Not long after the occupation of Canaan, the Hebrews--

or at least the southern and trans-Jordanic tribes--were


a Num. xxi. 21-35; xxxii. 1-              and Judg. xi. 17, 18: according to

35; Deut. ii. 26-37; iii. 1-20;                       the first passage, the Moabites al-

Josh. xiii. 7-31.                                             lowed the Hebrews to pass through

b Comp. Hitzig, Die Inschrift des                 their land, and readily sold them

Mescha, p. 6. Gesenins (Commentar          provisions; according to the last

uber den Jesaia, i. 503) calls the dis-          two, they denied them both the one

tribution of the east-Jordanic coun-            and the other.

try among the Hebrew tribes, ‘to                 e Comp. Exod. xv. 15; Num. xxii.

some extent, a dominion in partiburs          3, 4; Dent. ii. 25.

infidelium.'                                                     f Nun. xxii. 5, 6, etc.

c  Judg. xi. 15, 18; Dent. ii. 15, 9                 g See supra, p. 5.

19, 37; comp. 2 Chron. xx. 10.                    h Num. xxv. 1, 2; Judg. x. 6; 1

d Comp. Dent. ii. 29 with xxiii. 5                 Ki. xi. 5, 8.


70                                ISRAEL AND MOAB.


attacked by Eglon, king of Moab, in conjunction with the

Ammonites and the Amalekites. Overcome and made

tributary, they bore the yoke for eighteen years, but

were then delivered by the stratagem and valour of

Ehud.a  Almost during the entire period of the Judges,

the intercourse between Israel and Moab seems to have

been both active and amicable, and frequently resulted in

matrimonial alliances, as is sufficiently evident from the

Book of Ruth. At the end of that period, however, the

Moabites seem to have incurred the enmity of the

Hebrews for we learn that Saul attacked and defeated

them.b Nevertheless the king of Moab, not long after-

wards, accorded to David's parents a secure asylum,

since he favoured David either as the descendant of

a Moabitess or as the rival of his adversary Saul.c But

this friendship was not of long duration. David, when

king of Israel, found it necessary or advisable--the

historical records are silent as to the cause--to under-

take against the Moabites a military expedition, after

the successful termination of which he treated them

with excessive rigour, and imposed upon their country a

heavy tribute.d It is at this time that the Book of

Balaam was probably composed.e Up to that epoch

nothing had happened to call forth a feeling of excep-

tional bitterness between the two nations. The Book,

accordingly, although introducing Israel and Moab as

foes, is free from that virulent hatred which suggested

the repulsive legend of the origin of the Moabitish race,

found in the Jahvistic narrative of Genesis;f and it is


a Judg. iii. 11-30; comp. 1 Sam.                  d 2 Sam. viii. 2,12; comp. xxiii.

xii. 9.                                                              20; 2 Ki. iii. 4; Isai. xvi. 1; 1 Chr.

b 1 Sam. xiv. 47.                                             xviii. 2.

c 1 Sam. xxii. 3, 4, ybx xn-xcy                  e See supra, p. 43.

kv Mktx ymxv                   f Gen. xix. 37; comp. ix. 22.

                                    ISRAEL AND MOAB.                      71


equally free from that national aversion which is re-

vealed in the injunctions of Deuteronomy, that not even

in the tenth generation should Moabites be admitted in-

to the Hebrew community.a

            It is beyond our present purpose to pursue the history

of the Moabites further, and to show how, after having

endured their dependence for more than a century, they

rose against the increased oppression and new encroach-

ments of Israel's kings Omri and Ahab, and at the

death of the latter monarch (B.C. 897), revolted under

their own ruler Mesha--to whom the inscription on

the ‘Moabite Stone’ probably refersb--and how, though

not only maintaining their liberty against the united

efforts of the Kings Jehoram and Jehoshaphat by a

remarkable expedient, but wresting from the Israelites

many towns,c they were again reduced to subjection

by Jeroboam II. (about B.C. 800), who restored the

old boundaries of the kingdom; till, in the confusion of

the Assyrian period, they completely re-established their

freedom, as they were left unmolested by the eastern

conquerors.d Indeed the mutual animosity between Israel


a Deut. xxiii. 4-7.                                           state of tyranny, cannot, however,

b We say probably; for the differ-                have lasted ‘forty years,’ since the

ences between the account of the                period from the beginning of Omri's

Inscription and that of the Bible are            reign to the death of Ahab comprised

so great and striking, and the har-                hardly more than thirty years

monising explanations that have                  (B. C. 928-897); if the reading be

been attempted are so little convin-            correct, ‘forty’ mast be taken as a

sing, that a decided and final opinion          round number, for 'many,' as is not

can hardly yet be pronounced. The  unusual in Eastern literature (see

oppression and encroachments of               Comm. on Gen. p. 185).

Omri and his son are inferred from c Moabite Inscription, lines 8-

the Inscription, lines 4-6 yrmf               20.

Nmy bxm tx vnfyv lxrWy jlm     d 2 Ki. i. 1; iii. 4-27; xiv. 25;

Mg rmxyv hnb hplhyv. . . . Nbr              comp. 2 Chr. xx. 1-30; see Comm.

yrmf wryv . . . . bxm tx vnfx xh       on Lev. i. pp. 393, 394 comp. also

vkv hb bwyv xbdhm tx. This              Gesen. Comm. uber den Jesa. 1. c.

72                    ISRAEL AND MOAB.


and Moab, which was exhibited in attack, insinuation,

and invective, outlasted even the existence of the

dom of Judah.a Is it necessary to recall the severe

menaces and judgments incessantly pronounced against

Moab by the prophets from the ninth down to the sixth

century, by Amos and Isaiah, Zephaniah and Jeremiah,

Ezekiel and other seers in the time of the exile,b and

to prove that the subjection of Israel's enemies was never

considered complete unless it included the humiliation

of Moab?c When the Hebrew tribes in the east of the

Jordan were led away by Assyrian conquerors, the terri-

tory which they had inhabited between the rivers Arnon

and Jabbok was eagerly seized by the exulting Moabites;d

and yet we find, after the return of the Jews from exile,

that the two nations not only renewed their intercourse,

but, more frequently than ever, concluded matrimonial

alliances which such earnest reformers as Ezra and

Nehemiah found it necessary to check by the severest

and most peremptory measures.e Such were the diffi-

culties of the attempt to separate the Hebrews, by

distinctions of religion and law, front the neighbouring

tribes, to which they were closely akin in race and



a See 2 Ki. xiii. 20; xxiv. 2;                           d Isai. xv., xvi.; comp. Jerem.

Isai. xvi. 6; xxv. 11; Zephan. ii.                     xlix. 1-5.

8, 10; Jerem. xlviii. 29, 30; Ps.                    e Ezra ix. 1 sqq.; x. 1 sqq.; Neh.

lxxxiii., 7, etc. Comp. 2 Ki. xii. 21, xiii. 1-3, 23. Comp. Comm. on Ge-

and 2 Chr. xxiv. 26 (see Geiger, Ur-           nes. pp. 424, 425; see also infra,

schrift, pp. 18, 49). See, however,               notes on xxiv. 15-17.

Jer. xxvii. 3.                                                   f Indeed, the Moabite dialect bore

b Amos ii. 1-3; Isai. xv., xvi.;             even a greater resemblance to Hebrew

Zephan. ii. 8-11; Jerem. ix. 26;                    than the Phoenician, as is proved

xxv. 21 ; xlviii. ; Ezek. xxv. 8-11;                 by King Mesha's Inscription, which,

Isai. xi. 14; xxv. 10-12; comp.                      moreover, reveals many striking and

Ps. lx. 10. Dan. xi. 41.                                   surprising analogies of thought and

c Comp. Ps. Ix. 6; lxxxiii. 7;              conception common to the Moabites

Isai. xi. 14; xxv. 6-12.                                   and the early Hebrews.




                        NUMBERS XXII.-XXI V.   


                        1. INTRODUCTION. XXII. 1.


1. And the children of Israel removed, and en-

camped in the plains of Moab, on the other side

of the Jordan, opposite Jericho.


            Let us suppose that the Hebrews, continuing the course

of their circuitous wanderings, had, in the fortieth year

after their departure from Egypt, safely reached the

region of Mount Hor on the eastern side of the mountain-

chain of Seir, at last determined resolutely to advance

to their final goal of Canaan proper from the east of the

Jordan, by the only route that was open to them. In

this district, where Aaron died, they were not separated

by many stations front the highland of Mount Nebo,

where Moses found his grave, and whence they hoped to

reach the southern parts of the Promised Land without

difficulty. Although the navies of many of their resting

places have disappeared, not a few have been preserved,

which enable us to follow the track of the advancing

people, in this last section of their journeys, with some


            Travelling from a point opposite Mount Nebi Harun,

the Biblical Hor, northward, so as always to leave

to the west the ridges of Seir, and consequently also

the wonderful remains of Wady Musa, or Petra, the        

once renowned city of rocky caverns and tombs,a we


            a Comp. Commentary on Genesis, pp. 478-481.


74                                NUMBERS XXII. 1


reach, in six or seven hours, the principal town of the

district of Esh-Sheia--Shobek-which is situated on a hill

presenting an extensive prospect, and doubly valued as

a place of encampment on account of the abundant

springs that rise at its base. Moving on in the same

direction, and keeping by the old Roman road regularly

paved with black stones and still in tolerable preserva-

tion, while in the east the pilgrims' way to Mecca (the

derb el-hadj) is visible, we come, in another seven hours,

to the ruins of Ghurundel, conspicuous by three volcanic

peaks, and then, in about three hours more, to the village

of Buseira, the Bozrah of the Bible, once an important

Edomite settlement, now hardly comprising fifty wretched

huts. After not much more than two hours, we reach, in

a neighbourhood well watered and exceedingly fertile, the

large hamlet of Tufile, probably the Hebrew Tophel, so  

eminent in early times that it was employed as a geo-

graphical landmark,a and even at present distinguished

as the residence of the chief of the district. Travelling

from Tufile for four or five hours northward, past several

villages and rocky heights, we come to the deep bed of

the Wady Siddiyeh or Gerahi, where begins the district

of Kerak, or the territory of ancient Moab; and another

journey of rather more than seven hours in the same

direction leads us, through regions rich in springs and

marked by picturesque variety, to the capital Kerak itself.

This is the celebrated Kir-Moabb or Kir-Hareseth of the

Bible,c both in earlier and in later ages the chief centre

of the caravan traffic between Syria, Egypt, and Arabia,

and, therefore, at all times an eagerly contested strong-

hold, as it was especially in the wars of the Crusaders,    

who occupied and fiercely defended it as the key of that

country, till Saladdin brought it into his power after

terrible sieges and assaults (A.c. 1188). From Kerak, the


a Comp. Deut. i. 1.                             c 2 Ki. iii. 25; Isai. xvi. 7 ; also

b Isai. av. 1.                                         Kir-heres, Isa. xvi. 11; xlviii. 31, 36.


                                    INTRODUCTION.                             75


northern path continues through a more open plain dotted

by many ruins of old villages and towns, and after a four

hours' stage, carries us to Rabba, the ancient Rabbath

Moab, which, confounded with Ar Moab, was later called

Areopolis. Always pursuing the Roman road, the mile-

stones of which are, for the greatest part, still extant, and

proceeding through a fertile country for about two hours

northward, we behold, on our left hand, the isolated

summit of Djebel Shihan and the village of Shihan, in

which name it is easy to recognise that of the Amorite

king Sihon, and in two hours more, passing through a

highly luxuriant vegetation, we reach the rugged and most

precipitous ravines of the Wady Mojib, the Biblical river

Arnon, where the present district of El-Belka commences,

and beyond which, up to the Wady Zerka, the ancient

river Jabbok, the early abodes of the Moabites had ex-

tended, before these districts were occupied by the Amorites.

Advancing, for about one hour, in the north of Wady

Mojib, on a rough and difficult road, we arrive into a

plain covered by piles of ruins which bear the name of

Arair, the Scriptural Aroer, and then, in scarcely half

an hour, we approach the northern extremity of the plain

at Dhibhan, the Hebrew Dibon, which was successively

inhabited by Gadites and Reubenites, and which, of

late, has again become famous by the discovery, within its

old precincts, of king Mesha's ‘Moabite Stone,’ on which

distinct mention is made of a considerable number of

familiar Biblical towns.a

            Throughout the entire distance which we have just

traversed from Mount Hor northward, Dibon is the first

place which, in the completest Biblical account, is also

introduced as an encamping station of the Hebrews, the

interval between Hor and Dibon being filled up by the


a See the numerous interpreta-                     D. M. G., xxiv., 1870, pp. 212 sqq.,

tions of the Inscription by Gannean,            433 sqq.; xxv., 1871, pp. 149 sqq.,

De Vogue, Ginsburg, Noldeke,                    463 sqq., etc.; Colenso, Lectures on

Hitzig, etc.; comp. also Zeitschr. d. the Pentateuch, pp. 349-363, etc.


76                                NUMBERS XXII..     1.


navies of Zalmonah, Punon, Oboth, and Ije-Abarim,

which is described as lying in ‘the desert that is in the

east of Moab,’ or 'at the boundary of Moab,' and therefore

near the Arnon.a Although these resting-places cannot

be identical with the Edomite or Moabite localities noticed

in this sketch, as the Hebrews did not touch the territory

of Edom and Moab, some of them were doubtless situated

in a line parallel with, though more easterly than, those

well authenticated localities.b

            A few additional stages within the mountain range of

Abarim, which we have reached, will bring us to the

point where the scene of Balaam's prophecies is laid. If,

travelling from Dhiban in a north-westerly direction, we

cross first the Roman road and then the small river Hei-

dan, a tributary of the Arnon, we come, in rather more   

than two hc.urs, to very considerable heaps of ruins, called

by the natives Kureiyat, and corresponding to the ancient

Kirjathaim, or Kirjath-huzoth,c and next, after about

an hour's journey, we reach the ruins of Attarus, the old

Ataroth, where the country, on the western side, can be

surveyed beyond the Dead Sea as far as Bethlehem, Je-

rusalem, and Mount Gerizim.  In this region must have

been the next station of the Hebrews specified in the

Biblical list, viz., Almon-Diblathaim; and hence passing

northward, partially through very grand and surprisingly

wild scenery, over Wady Zerka Main and its deep valley,

where the flora is almost tropical, and, leaving the far-

famed hot mineral springs of Calirrhoe to the left, and

the vast tracts of ruins at Main and Madiyabeh, the

Hebrew Baal Meon and Medebah, to the right, a longer


a Comp. Num. xxxiii. 37-45.                        several times encamped west of

b As the Hebrews marched from                  Mount Seir. But the small number

Hor first southward down to the                  of stations given for those long routes

Gulf of Akabah and then only, after             is surprising. On conjectural iden-

having reached the eastern side of               tifications see Palmer, The Desert

the mountain, proceeded northward            of the Exodus, ii., ch. 11.

(Num. xxi. 4), they must have                      c Num. xxii. 39, tvcH tyrq.

                        INTRODUCTION.                                         77


march brought the Israelites to the ‘mountains of Abarim

before Nebo,' a commanding peak in the ridges of Mount

Pisgah, in ‘the wilderness of Kedemoth.a From hence

they desired to proceed at once to the Jordan by

turning to the north-west, and to cross that river near

its influx into the Dead Sea. To accomplish this object,

they required the permission of the Amorite king Sihon,

who, not long before, had come into possession of these

provinces, and who resided in Heshbon (the present Hes-

ban), only a little distance from Pisgah. Sihon, however,

rejecting and resenting their request, marched against

them with his whole army. The Hebrews, without break-

ing up their encampments before Nebo, went out to meet

him, routed his troops, and conquered the land between

the rivers Arnon and Jabbok. Never losing sight of the    

main end of the people's wanderings, and anxious not to

leave in their rear powerful enemies who might check    

their progress unawares, Moses sent from Nebo military

detachments to the northern and north-western parts of

the country for exploration and conquest, and particularly

despatched a large force to oppose Og, the formidable

king of Bashan, who, after a vain resistance, shared the

fate of the other Amorite ruler. After having successfully

carried out the task entrusted to them, the armed bands

returned to the principal encampment in Nebo. Hence

the entire host and all Israel next removed north-west-

ward to ‘the plains of Moab;’ spread in a long line over

that depressed tract of landb which, partly well-watered

and luxuriant in vegetation, extends along both sides of

the Jordan and is, on its eastern bank, about four or five

miles broad; and thus pitched their tents from Beth-

jesimoth, near the Dead Sea, northward to Abel-shittim,

so that the chief or central part of the camp might well   

be described to have been ‘opposite Jericho.’c


a Comp. Deut. ii. 26.                                     10-13, 18-31; xxxiii. 37-49; Deut.

b Arabah El-kora,                                           i. 4; ii. 2, 3, 8, 9, 13, 18, 19, 24, 26,

c Comp. Num. xx. 22-29; xxi. 4,                  30-36; iii. 27, 29; xxxiv. 1.

78                                NUMBERS  XXII. 1.


                        PHILOLOGICAL REMARKS.

                                    CHAPTER XXII. 1.


REGARDING the events in this light, we are able to explain

several difficulties. We can understand the statement that

'Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites' (xxi. 31, comp.

Deut. iii. 29), while they were actually carrying on war even

with distant tribes; and we can account for the fact that the list

of stations in Chap. xxxiii., immediately after ‘the moun-

tains of Abarim before Nebo,' records the encampment 'in

the plains of Moab opposite Jericho' (vers. 48, 49); for as

the people, and probably a part of the army, remained

behind in Nebo, no general stage between this place and the

province of Bashan was to be entered. Thus, or similarly,

the compiler of the Book of Numbers seems to have viewed

the matter, or else he could not have incorporated, side by

side with the narrative of Chap. xxi., the list of Chap.      

xxxiii., in which the absence of any station within the

whole distance between Nebo and Edrei would be the more

surprising, as the Hebrews did not even reach Edrei by the

direct or shortest but by a tortuous route, as they first

advanced northward to Jazer and then 'turned (vnpyv) and

went up by the way of Bashan' (xxi. 32, 33 ; comp. Deut.

iii. 1, Npnv).  But it is a very different question, which we

cannot here discuss, whether that list and this narrative are

really in harmony, or whether, if both imply different ver-

sions, the author of the list considered the conquest of the

north-eastern part of Gilead to have been achieved in post-

Mosaic times, and, for this reason, is silent about this dis-

trict. The uncertain dimness of those early traditions is

strikingly manifest in the conflicting accounts given of the

Hebrew journeys even in the comparatively small distance

between Hor and Beth-jesimoth near the Jordan--accounts

which research will hardly ever succeed in harmonising,

even if we could hope to identify all stations (comp. Num.

xxi. 10-13, 18-20; xxxii.i. 41-49; Deut. ii. 3, 8, 13, 14, 18,

19, 24). For the illustration of this narrative it is sufficient

to follow, in the main, the completest and most careful list

in Num. xxxiii.--There are several clear instances of partial

                                    INTRODUCTION.                             79


and separate campaigns analogous to those above conjec-

tured. A selected force was sent by Moses against the

Midianites, and after having executed their sanguinary com-

mission, returned with the booty and the prisoners ‘into the       

camp, to the plains of Moab, which are by the Jordan opposite

Jericho’ (xxxi. 3-12). Again, 'the children of Machir, the

son of Manasseh, went to Gilead and took it, and dispos-

sessed the Amorite who was in it' (xxxii. 39); which terms

evidently involve an independent expedition of a part of

one tribe (comp. Deut. iii. 15). Nor is it unlikely that the

conquests in the north-eastern tracts were made under the

leadership of Jair, another Manassite, to whose kinsmen

those provinces were then assigned (xxxii. 41; Deut. iii. 4);

for it is not clear from the narrative (xxi. 32-35) whether

Moses accompanied the expedition or not (comp. ver. 32,

‘And Moses sent men‘).

            With regard to the term NDer;yal; rb,feme, we may here add a

few remarks to those made in another place (Comment. on        

Genes. p. 776). Though rb,fe, in connection with a river,

originally means merely its bank (for the primary sense of

the word is side or surface, comp. Exod. xxxii. 15), and

though, therefore, if one of the banks is specially meant,

rb,fe must be furnished with some distinctive qualification,

such as hmAyA westward or hHArAz;mi eastward, unless the connection

excludes all doubt (as in Josh. ix. 1; 1 Sam. xxxi. 7); it is

yet certain that the phrase NDer;ya.ha rb,fe, in the course of time,

became, among the Hebrews, a fixed geographical term,

meaning the other side or the east of the Jordan, since they

considered the land west of that river as Canaan proper, and

as their country kat ] e]coxh<n, so much so that the two tribes and

a half, which took up their abodes in the east, deemed it

necessary to mark, in the most solemn manner, their connec-

tion with the other or western tribes (comp. Num. xxxii. 16-

32; Josh. xxii. 9-34). Except, therefore, in the few pas-  

sages where the context proves that the author is clearly

conscious of speaking from the east-Jordanic point of view

(as in Deut. iii. 20, 25), the words Ndryh rbf, if left without

any qualification, must undoubtedly be understood to refer

to the eastern territory (Deut. iii. 8; Josh, ii. 10; vii. 7; ix.

80                                NUMBERS XXII. l.


10; xiv. 3; xvii. 5; xxii. 4; xxiv. 8; Judg. v. 17; vii. 25;

x. 8; xi. 18; 1 Sam. xxxi. 7; 1 Chron. xii. 37; comp. also

Myh rbf in 2 Chron. xx. 2, the eastern side of the Dead Sea);

and so familiar did this usage become to the Hebrews, that

we find those words occasionally employed with respect to the

east-Jordanic land, even under the exceptional condition

alluded to, viz., where the speakers distinctly imply that

they are in the east of the Jordan (comp. Num. xxxii. 32,

where the men of Reuben and Gad say in Gilead, ’We will

pass over armed into the land of Canaan, but the possession

of our inheritance shall be Ndryl rbfm' that is, in the east of the

Jordan; Num. xxxv. 10, 14, where Moses says in the plains

of Moab, ‘When you come over the Jordan into the land of

Canaan' ... you shall appoint three cities of refuge ‘in the

land of Canaan’ and ‘three Ndryl rbfm,’ that is, in the east of

the Jordan). At what period this usage established itself,

cannot easily be determined; it is constant in the Books

of Judges and Samuel; it was certainly common at

the time when the people had developed their earliest

traditions with some degree of consistency, and when

they believed they had a double right to call themselves

people of the other side' (Myrib;fi ), because Abraham, the

founder of their race, had emigrated from the other side

of the Euphrates, and because their ancestors under Joshua

had conquered Canaan by advancing from the other side of

the Jordan; and after the deportation of the east-Jordanic

tribes by the Assyrians, in the eighth century, Gilead was to

the Hebrews, of course, a land 'on the other side of the

Jordan.' Naturally, however, all this did not prevent his-

torians from continuing to add, in political and geographical

records, explicit designations of east and west, and such terms

we find subjoined even in the latest Books, not only in Deutero-

nomy and Joshua, but also in the Chronicles (comp. 1 Chron.

vi. 63, for the east Ndryh Hrzml vHry Ndryl rbfm; 1 Chron.

xxvi. 30, for the west hbrfm Ndryl rbfm).     So much remains

certain that, in the age of Moses, no Hebrew could employ the

expression Ndryh rbf, without some precise qualification, for the

land east of the Jordan, as it is employed in our passage and

elsewhere (for the words Ndryh rbf are an explanation of

                                    INTRODUCTION.                             81


bxvm tvbrfb, and not conversely); it could be so used only at

a time when it might be supposed to be, in itself, intelligible

to the reader (comp. the general phrase Ndry lf bxvm tvbrfb

vHry, Num. xxxv. 1). Analogous to Ndryh rbf is the term

rhAn.;ha rb,fe or xrAhEna rbafE, which is either the land west or east of

the Euphrates, according as the standpoint is taken in Meso-

potamia and Persia or in Canaan (Josh. xxii. 4, 7, 10, 11;

xxiv. 3; 2 Sam. x. 16 ; 1 Ki. xiv. 15; Isa. vii. 20; Ezra iv.

10, il, 20; v. 3, 6; vi. 6, 8, 13; Neh. ii. 7; 1 Chron. xix. 16).

            The designation 'plains of Moab' (bxvm tvbrf) points

either to a very early or to a very late period. For according

to Numbers and Deuteronomy, the Moabites had, before the

arrival of the Hebrews in those countries, been deprived by

the Amorites of all lands north of the Arnon (Num. xxi 13,

26; Deut. iii. 8; Judg. xi. 18, etc.); with what right, there-

fore, could the tracts along the Jordan opposite Jericho be

called 'plains of Moab'? The surprise is enhanced by the

fact that this territory is, in some passages of Deuteronomy

even distinctly called 'the land of Moab' (bxvm Crx, Deut. i.

5; xxviii. 69; xxxii. 49; xxxiv. 5), and in Numbers (xxi.

20) ‘Field of Moab’ (bxvm hdW; comp. Gen. xxxvi., 35;

1 Chron. i. 46; Ruth i. 6 ; iv. 3). Now the same districts,

up to the Jabbok, were soon afterwards conquered by the

Hebrews, but were, after the deportation of the east-Jordanic

tribes, re-occupied by the Moabites (see supra, p. 69), and

could then again justly be called 'the plains of Moab' or

‘the land of Moab.’ It is certainly not impossible that

these appellations lingered in the popular language even

after they had ceased to be strictly applicable; but, con-

sidering the date and character of the different Books of the

Pentateuch, we are inclined to consider the suggested view

as more probable. This may also explain the singular fact

that the situation of a place of encampment to the east of

the Jordan should be described by a town to the west of that

river: at the time of the composition of Deuteronomy and

Numbers the land east of the Jordan was less familiar to

the Hebrews, if it had not, in a great measure, ceased to

interest them.--The combination OHrey; NDer;ya found almost ex-

clusively in the latest portions of Numbers (xxvi. 3, 63;

82                                NUMBERS XXII.


xxxi. 12; xxxiii. 48, 50; xxxiv. 15; xxxv. 1; xxxvi. 13;

and besides only in Josh. xiii. 32; xvi. 1; xx. 8; 1 Chron.

vi. 63), implies a pregnant use of the construct state--the

‘Jordan of Jericho’ being not that bank of the Jordan

where Jericho lies, but that which is opposite this town.

The novel conjecture that the Jordan of Jericho' denotes

that part of the river which is near the Sea of Tiberias--

this lake, seen from the east, having the appearance of the

crescent of the moon (HareyA)--can only be upheld by a forced

disarrangement of many geographical statements of the

Bible (so L. Noack, Von Eden nach Golgotha, ii. pp. 236,

241, ‘der Jordan sein Mond;’ comp. ibid., Erlauterungen,

pp. 254, sqq.).--The two forms OHrey; and OHyriy;, for the town of

Jericho, seem indeed to have been current at all times,

although, apparently, the same authors did not use them

promiscuously, but always the one or the other form. For we

find OHrey; constantly both in Deuteronomy and in Numbers,

and in the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles; and

OHyriy; as constantly in Joshua, and generally likewise in the

Books of Kings (written hHyriy; in l Ki. xvi. 34; comp., how-

ever, 2 Ki. xxv. 5, OHrey;; and thus also 2 Sam. x. 5; Jer.

xxxix. 5; lii. 8). But, on the whole, it may he observed

that OHrey; the later form and may, by the revisers of the

Pentateuch, have been adopted, in the few instances of Deutero-

nomy (xxxii. 49; xxxiv. 1, 3), for the sake of uniformity. On

no account is it possible to found, on the relative use of OHrey;

and OHyriy;, argument in favour of the Mosaic authorship of the

Pentateuch (as has been endeavoured by Hengstenberg, Bileam,

pp. 256, 257).--The time spent by the Hebrews in their

journeys from Mount Hor to the plains of Moab cannot

have been very long; for in the beginning of the fifth

month they were in Hor (xxxiii. 38), and in the beginning

of the eleventh month, in the same year, Moses is said to

have delivered or begun his exhortations (Deut. i. 3), and

within these six months fall all the wars in the eastern

districts, the sojourn before Nebo, and the encampment 

opposite Jericho. From the outlines above attempted it will

be seen that the distance from the east of Mount Hor to the

plains of Moab may be accomplished in fifty-five to sixty hours.



                                2. COUNCILS. xxii. 2-4.


            2. And Balak, the son of Zippor, saw all that

Israel had done to the Amorites. 3. And Moab

was very much afraid of the people, because

they were many, and Moab had a horror of the

children of Israel. 4. And Moab said to the

elders of Midian, Now will this host devour all

that is round about us, as the ox devours the

grass of the field. And Balak, the son of Zip-

por, was king of Moab at that time.


            The Hebrews had no more hostile intentions against

the land of Moab and Ammon, than they had previously

shown against that of Edom, because all those districts

were inhabited by tribes closely kindred to themselves.

But it seems that the Moabites attached no faith to the

invaders' friendly assurances, and perhaps even refused  

to sell to them provisions.a They had indeed every reason

for desiring a peaceful arrangement, since but shortly

before, during the preceding reign, they had been materi-

ally weakened by Sihon, king of the Amorites, who had

taken from them their most populous and most fertile

provinces.b For some time they might have fostered

the hope, that the strange immigrants would be crushed

by the same powerful monarch, to whom the presence

of such large hosts of armed men could also not be

indifferent. What must have been their consternation,

when they saw that these warlike foreigners, as if

urged on and supported by some hidden power, not only

vanquished that very king Sihon, their own formidable

conqueror, and wrested from him a large part of his terri-

tory, but rapidly subdued other and hardly less powerful

princes. No wonder, then, that they ‘dreaded,’ nay,           


a See supra p. 69.      b xxi. 26-30.   c xxi. 21-2.5, 33-3.5.

84                                NUMBERS xxii. 2-4.


‘loathed’a such enemies, and that they abhorred them like

devastating swarms of locusts ‘covering the face of the

land,’ or like herds of hungry oxen devouring every green

blade within wide areas.b In this distress they seem first

to have endeavoured to secure allies. They certainly

took counsel with the elders of the neighbouring Midian-

ites. But when these could afford no effectual help, the

king of Moab, unable to oppose to the invaders a suffi-

cient material resistance, knew no other expedient than

to take refuge to spiritual powers and to attempt by

supernatural agencies what he despaired of achieving by

human means. For he feared the Israelites simply 'be-

cause they were numerous' or ‘mightier’ than himself,c

and had in recent campaigns shown undaunted valour.

It did not enter into his considerations, that they might

stand under the protection of an all-powerful Deity. He

relied on miraculous intercession for himself in a manner

which proved the perverseness of his notions regarding the

Divine conduct of human affairs; and he was certainly

incapable of understanding the destinies of Israel and the

guiding Providence of their God.d

            The casual allusion to ‘the elders of Midian'e may be

considered as the sad germ, out of which nearly all the

confusing misconceptions of this narrative have grown.

For it caused readers from the oldest times to associate

Balaam's prophecies with the Midianite war, and with

the infamous share he is alleged to have borne in its

origin;f and it thus materially helped to destroy that un-

mingled enjoyment which all should derive from so

perfect a work. Josephus, in his elaborate paraphrase,

strangely places the Moabites almost entirely in the

background.g The Chaldee translation of Jonathan thus

expands the allusion: ‘The people of Moab and Midian


            a rgyv and Cryv, ver. 2.                     e In vers. 4, 7.

            b Comp. 2 Iii. iii. 4.                            f Num. xxxi. 8, 16; Josh. xiii.

            c Vers. 2, 6.                                        21, 22.

            d See supra, pp. 13-15.                     g Jos. Ant. IV. vi. 2-13.


                                    COUNCILS.                           85


had been one and the kingdom one up to that day . . .

and Balak, the son of Zippor, the Midianite, was the king

of Moab at that time . . . for so was the convention

among them, to have alternately kings from the one

people and from the other.' And it is a favourite as-

sumption of many modern interpreters, that Balaam was

recommended to Balak by the Midianites, who are sup-

posed to have heard of the soothsayer's skill on their

extensive caravan journeys;a while others assert that

Balaam himself was a Midianite; and is represented as

such in the second or diverging account.b  But supposing

even that Balaam's fame reached Moab through some

Midianite traders, does it necessarily follow that there

existed between Balaam and the Midianites a close and

permanent connection? Though a portion of the latter

people spread, no doubt, eastward as far as the Euphrates,

they can, on no account, be called inhabitants of 'Aram,'

Balaam's native country, which the writer clearly dis-

tinguishes from Moab and Midian.c And what is more

natural than that the Moabites were considered to have

sought the advice and assistance of an adjoining and

friendly tribe? There is certainly no reason to feel sur-

prise at finding Midian associated with Moab in schemes

of attack against the Hebrews. For on the one hand,

one chief branch of the Midianites dwelt in the im-

mediate vicinity of the Moabite territory, spreading

eastward and northward--the other and less warlike

portion, with which Moses came into contact after his

flight from Egypt, extending southward to the Gulf of

Akabah and far into the peninsula of Sinai--and on the

other hand, there prevailed, between them and the

Israelites, an ancient enmity, although both nations

traced their origin to the common ancestry of Abraham.

Nor did the Midianites, from a feeling of gratitude, relax


  a Comp. Gen. xxxvii. 28; Isai.                     b Ewald, Geschichte, ii. 220.

lx. 6.                                                                c xxii. 5; xxiii. 7.

86                                NUMBERS XXII..2-4.


their animosity when they regained complete independence

through the victory of the Hebrews over king Sihon, by

whom they had been subdued.a At the time of the

exodus, they are said to have shared the hostile feelings

of the Egyptians against Israel,b and tradition made

them and their moral degeneracy the causes of a fearful

calamity which befell the Hebrews, which, however, did

not remain without terrible consequences for themselves.c

But the mutual hatred reached the highest pitch through

the cruel and wanton oppression, which the Midianites,

in the period of the Judges, exercised against Israel for

seven years, till they were, by Gideon's heroism and

shrewdness, so effectually crushed, that, from that time,

they cease to appear in history as a separate people,

although their caravan trade may long have survived.d

We cannot wonder that deeds so glorious and so remark-

able in their results, deeply impressed themselves upon

the popular mind, and were preserved among the nation's

proudest memories. A Psalmist, who probably wrote in

the reign of king Jehoshaphat (about B.C. 900), could

frame no stronger prayer against Israel's enemies than

‘Do to them, 0 God, as Thou didst to Midian;'e and

Isaiah still speaks of ‘the day of Midian’ and ‘the

slaughter of Midian' with an emphatic brevity which

proves how generally even then, after an interval of so

many centuries, the remembrance of those victories was

cherished.f It must, therefore, have been fresh and

vivid in David's time, the date of this narrative; and

hence it is natural to see the Midianites, who seem to

have been accustomed to join other tribes for attack or

defence,g participating in the plans of Balak, who, be-

sides, may have easily persuaded them that, from the

nearness of their abodes, their interests also were


a Gen. xxv. 2; 1 Chr. i. 32; Josh.                   d Judg. vi-viii.; comp. Isai. Ix. 6.

xiii. 21.                                                           e Ps. 1xxxiii. 10.

b Habak. iii. 7.                                                f Isai. ix. 4; x. 26.

e Num. xx 6 sqq.; xxxi. 2 sqq.                       g Judg. vi. 3, 33.

                                    COUNCILS.                           81


threatened by the Hebrews--'Now will this host devour

all that is round about us.'a The commonwealth of

Midian appears to have been a patriarchal organisation,

headed by ‘kings’ or ‘chiefs,’b of whom at one time two,

at another five, are mentioned,c and who were assisted

in the government by ‘princes’ and ‘elders.’d With some

of the latter Balak took counsel, and they then accorn-

panied the Moabite elders as messengers to Balaam.e


PHILOLOGICAL REMARKS.--Among the many proofs of the

isolation of the 'Book of Balaam' within the Book of Num-

bers, are the place it occupies and the manner in which it is

introduced. According to the preceding accounts, the Israelites

had not only crossed the river Arnon, then the boundary of

Moab, but had advanced very considerably beyond it, steadily

increasing the distance in five or six northward journeys.

How, therefore, should it occur to the king of Moab, at that

juncture, to take measures of precaution? If operations

were at all necessary, they should have been devised when

the Hebrews, on passing the Wady el-Asha, had reached the

eastern confines of the territory of Moab. Balak might well

have inferred from their latest movements and actions that

it was not their intention to retrace their steps southward,

but to press in a westerly direction, and to cross the Jordan

with the least possible delay (supra, p. 68). Some such con-

siderations appear to have suggested themselves to later

readers, or to the final reviser of these chapters. For a care-

ful examination shows that the narrative originally ran thus

‘When Balak, the son of Zippor, saw all that Israel had done

to the Amorites, he sent messengers to Balaam, the son of

Beor, to Pethor, which is by the river Euphrates' (vers. 2, 5).

In order to connect this general statement, consistent in

itself, with the tenor of the Book of Numbers, it was later


a Ver. 4. Comp. Comm. on Gen.                  c Judg. viii. 6; Num. xxxi. 8;

p. 475; on Exod. p. 33; Nodldeke,               Josh. xiii. 21.

Die Amalekiter, pp. 7-10.                             d Myrw and Mynqz; Judg. vii. 25.

b Myklm or MyxyWn.                                    e Vers. 4, 7; comp. Ps. lxxxiii. 12.

88                                MBERS XXII. 2-4.


demed advisable to insert the third and fourth, verses

which specially refer to the people of Moab and their

alliance with the Midianites, and particularly dwell on the

terror inspired by the Hebrew hosts. But it cannot escape

our attention that those verses are indeed an interpolation.

For, first, vers. 2 and 5 fit admirably together; next, Moab

is mentioned in vers. 3 and 4 only, whereas the narrative

everywhere else speaks of Balak; and lastly, an author of such

ability ould not write thus incoherently: 'And Balak, the

son of Zippor, saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites'

(ver. 1), and then, And Balak, the son of Zippor, was king

of Moab at that time' (ver. 4). These last words, moreover,

thoughtlessly destroy that historical probability so admirably

maintained througout the section; for how could a contem-

porary of Balak, writing in the fortieth year of the Hebrew

wanderings--the very year in which the related incident is

recorded to have happened--say, 'And Balak was king of

Moab at that time,' unless it be gratuitously assumed that

Balak died within the few months that intervened between

Balaam's prophecies and Moses' death? The following

justification has indeed been proposed: The author had

first spoken of Balaam, the son of Zippor (ver. 1), and then

of Moab, without describing the relation in which the one

stood to the other; with respect to his contemporaries, whom

the author had in his mind when beginning the account, an

explicit remark setting forth that relation was unnecessary;

but he added it afterwards, because he remembered that

he was writing for posterity also' (Hengstenberg, Gesch.

Bileams, p. 34). However, it is difficult to see why a

writer who proves himself able to grasp and to combine the

events of centuries, could not make so obvious a reflection

from the outset, and say simply, 'And Balak, the son of

Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, saw,' etc.; though

even this form would have involved a forgetful disregard of

the age of Moses, and have betrayed the hand of a later   

compiler. A recent scholar joins vers. 2 to 5 in one period, in

order to maintain Balak throughout as the subject ('When

Balak saw all that Israel had done .... and that the

Moabites were afraid ... and that the Moabites said to the

                                    COUNCILS.                           89


elders of Midian,... Balak ... being king of Moab at that

time, he sent messengers,' etc.; so Luzzatto), a most involved

construction opposed to the simple parataxis of Hebrew,

and yet not removing the chief difficulties. A more critical

explanation has been attempted by the remark, 'As the

older source introduces Balak only in ver. 4, the second verse

is probably a statement of the Jehovist, added for the pur-

pose of connecting this narrative with the preceding account

of the wars' (Knobel, Numeri, p. 128). But if ver. 2 did

not originally form part of the composition, there was

hardly any reason why it should have been added, as the

tale is complete and intelligible without it. Besides, accord-

ing to the present state of Pentateuch criticism, the relation

between the ‘older source’ and ‘the Jehovist’ is almost

the reverse of what it was considered to be at the time when

that conjecture was proposed (in 1861). And lastly, none

of the main documents or writers of the Pentateuch concern

us in the consideration of this section (see supra, pp. 51, 52;

comp. also Nachmanides, Bechai, and Abarbanel in loc., who felt

the manifest irregularity of style, without being able to account

for it satisfactorily). The suggestion made in the Midrash

and elsewhere, 'that Balak was not the hereditary king, and

that a change of dynasty had taken place' (Canon Cook, Holy

Bible, in loc.), could hardly tend to lessen the incongruity,

even if it rested on a stronger support than the expression

‘former king of Moab’ (in xxi. 26).--In order to establish

in the verbs of the third verse the gradation evidently in-

tended by the author, we must render bxvm CqAyAva, not and

Moab dreaded or was distressed, but and Moab loathed or had   

a horror of the children of Israel, physical disgust (which is no

doubt the primary meaning of Cvq--Gen. xlvii. 46; Num.

xxi. 5--as of the kindred root Fvq) and moral aversion,

which may show itself either in fear (Isa. vii. 11) or hatred

(1 Ki. xi. 25), contempt (Prov. iii. 11) or anger (Lev. xx.

23, comp. Greek  kotei?n), being in some languages correlative

notions (comp. Fnq Chald. to loathe, Syr. to be afraid; Arab.

XXX  in both meanings; Sept. prosw<xqise; Vulg., quite indis-

tinctly, et impetum ejus ferre non possent). That loathing

90                                NUMBERS XXII. 2-4.         


or horror on the part of the Moabites was caused by Israel's

irresistible progress and power, which had for them something

extraordinary and incomprehensible, and which they were

therefore anxious to oppose and to break by supernatural

forces. The case is similar with the Egyptians who ‘loathed’

or ‘had a horror of the children of Israel’ (vcqyv, Exod. i. 12),

because it was to them an unaccountable fact that ‘the more

they afflicted the Hebrews, the more these multiplied and

grew.' Only in this passage and in ours, Cvq is followed by

ynpm, this verb being everywhere else construed with B;; it

must, therefore, here and in Exodus, be taken absolutely, so

that ynpm means 'on account of,' as is clear from Gen. xxvii. 46,

where both particles occur together, tH tvnb yneP;mi yyHb; ytcq,

‘I loathe my life on account of the daughters of Heth' (comp.

Fvq in the various figurative meanings of despising, hating,

or being angry, in Ezek. vi. 9; xvi. 47; xx. 43; xxxvi. 31;

Ps. xcv. 10; cxix. 158).--The graphic simile, peculiarly ap-

propriate in connection with pastoral nations, ‘now will this

host devour all that is round about us, as the ox devours the

grass of the field,' is on Assyrian inscriptions varied by the

metaphor, ‘with the main body of my servants I threshed

the enemy's country like a threshing ox' (Monolith Inscrip-

tion of Shalmaneser II., col. ii. § 52; comp. Records of the

Past, iii. 94); and it has not unnaturally tempted many to

allegorical interpretations (e.g., Origen, In Num. Homil. xii.,

Quia vitulus ore abrumpit herbam de campo et lingua tan-

quam falce quaecunque invenerit secat, ita et populus hic ore

et labiis pugnat et arma habet in verbis ac precibus,' etc.).

            It seems desirable here to take a comprehensive view of the

proper nouns occurring in these and the following verses.

First, they are all of Shemitie etymology, as might be ex-

pected, since Balak was a Moabite and Balaam an Aramaean

(xxii. 5; xxiii. 7; Dent. xxiii. 5); and this circumstance    

should facilitate the enquiry by following intelligible prin-

ciples. A few illustrations will suffice. Nearly all authorities

in ancient and modern times have interpreted the name MfAl;Bi

as ‘devourer,’ or ‘destroyer of the people’ (for Mf flb see

supra, p. 29), and have taken both the person and the name

as historical. How is this to be understood? Who gave to

                                    COUNCILS.                                       91


the celebrated seer that odious name? His parents? Or his

countrymen, by whom he was so highly honoured? Surely

not. Therefore, none else but his personal or national ene-

mies. But, if so, MfAl;Bi is not a real or strictly historical name.

The case is similar with qlABA. The most obvious meaning of

the root would lead to the sense 'the empty' or 'idle one'

(comp. Isa. xxiv. 1; Nab. ii. 11); can this be the name by

which the king of Moab was known to his people or his con-

temporaries? It seems that the matter may be thus explained.

If the names are indeed in any way historical (and it is on

this supposition only that the subject deserves minute investi-

gation), they had doubtless, when first bestowed, an import

involving something characteristic or conspicuous, and cer-

tainly not anything abusive or disgraceful (comp. Comm. on

Genes. p. 540). By slight modifications, to which both the

Oriental mind and the Oriental languages are eminently

adapted, the original name might afterwards be so changed by    

adversaries and opponents, that it was little altered in sound,

but very materially in meaning. Strictly adhering to this

consideration, we shall at least be guarded against grave

mistakes in the explanation of proper nouns, even should we

not always arrive at safe and positive results. If qlABA is in-

deed referable to the root qlb, in the sense of making empty

or laying waste, the original name was probably qleBo, the devas-

tator, the great conqueror, which an Eastern ruler would na-

turally bear with particular pride; and as no vowels and, of

course, no quiescent letters as matres lectionis were written,

qleBo was without difficulty converted into qlABA, which would be

interpreted either as ‘the man of idle endeavours, who vainly

hoped to crush Israel by curses’ (Philo takes both qlb and

Mflb as ma<taioj, and the former, besides, as a@nouj, Opp. ii.

423, see supra, p. 27), or, since emptiness and poverty were

deemed analogous notions and xtvqvlb is in Syriac poverty, as

the impoverished king, because he received from his prede-

cessor the land greatly diminished in extent and power

(xxi. 26).--Similarly MfAl;Bi, if from the first so vocalised,

means, no doubt, properly destruction or destroyer (from flb,

with the afformative M-A, as in many other proper Dames-

MnAvx, MTAf;Ga, MpAUH, MrAm;fa, etc., or with N-A , as NnAOx, NrAm;zi, NtAyze, NrAm;Ha,

92                                NUMBERS XXII. 2-4.


etc.--), a name which the father might fitly have given to his

son whom he hoped and wished to be able, by his execrations,

to terrify and to destroy his enemies and the foes of his friends

and employers (comp. xxii. 6); though we are rather inclined

to consider that proper noun to have originally been vocalised

MfAl;Ba (so Sept., balaa<m; Joseph., ba<lamoj; Saad.,      XXXX ) and

to be a contraction for MfA-lfaBa lord of the people (the f being

elided as in -lBe for lfaBa, whence the Syr. has MfAl;Be; comp tUr,

Chald. tUfr;); but in either case the Hebrews might easily

understand that name in a sense which was certainly attri-

buted to it at a very early date, as corruption or perdition of

the people (MfA flaB,, Talm. Sarah. 105a, etc., see supra, p. 29);

though the elision of f at the end of the word is question-

able, and is only supported by such apparent analogies as

Mlwvry for Mlw wvyr (comp. Engl. transcribe for trans-scribe,

etc.).--Not much different in meaning is the name of Balaam's

father rOfB;, which, in the intention of those who first gave

it, no doubt also signified destroyer (rfb) in the sense above

indicated, as Beor was probably likewise an enchanter and

diviner, whereas that word readily suggested to the Hebrews

the similar meaning of the people's debaser or destroyer, if not,

at the same time, that of voracious brute ( ryfioB;, Exod.

xxii. 4; Num. xx. 4, etc.), or of the abominable idol ryofP;, to

whom the soothsayer's family might well have been deemed

devoted. A conclusive analogy is near at hand. The Greek

proper noun Nicolaus (Niko<laoj), and its synonyms, as Nico-

demur, Andronicus, and others, are by no means vitupera-

tive but unquestionably honourable in import, denoting

great heroes and successful warriors; and yet the New

Testament, as we have shown (p. 23), renders the name

Balaam by Nikolaos, and assigns to the latter, as it does to

the former, the worst significations of depraver and spiritual

ravager of the people. Thus, both in Greek and in Hebrew,

etymologies, elastic enough in any case, were conveniently

employed for turning a meaning into its very opposite. In

the second Epistle of Peter (ii. 15), rOfB; is rendered Boso<r

this is perhaps merely a copyist's error, instead of bew<r or

Buw<r; or it may have arisen out of the difficulty of accurately

                                    COUNCILS.                                       93


representing the Hebrew letter f, for which there is no

proper equivalent in Greek (comp. Heb. Gram. ii. pp. 54,

55), and which, therefore, as the strongest aspirate, was, in

that instance, represented by the sibilant s (comp. e[pta< and

septem, a!lj and sal, etc.); if it is not a peculiarity of the

Galilean dialect, by the use of which Peter the Galilean was

markedly distinguished (Matt. xxvi. 73; Mark xiv. 70), and

in which, to the great displeasure of southern purists, the f

was pronounced more softly, almost like N (comp. Talm.

Eruv. 53; Buxt, Lexic. Talm., pp. 434-436), though some

consider it to be a Chaldaism, because they suppose that the

Apostle was then a resident at Babylon. But lest any oppor-

tunity, however trivial, be neglected for casting discredit on

Balaam, a very learned divine of the seventeenth century,

with the approval of many later writers, threw out the sur-

mise, that the Apostle designedly used the form Boso<r, in

order to recall the sound of rWABA flesh, 'thus elegantly inti-

mating that Balaam, the false prophet, by inciting men to

carnal pleasures, was justly called the son of flesh' (Vitringa,

Obss. Sacr., IV. ix. 31, p. 937).--It is hardly likely that boso<r

is intended for rOtP; so that balaa>m o[ Boso<r would mean

'Balaam, a native of Pethor,' as Grotius and others believe.-

It is remarkable that the first king of Edom is called 'flaB, the

son of rOfB;’ (Gen. xxxvi. 32; 1 Chron. i. 43); this coincidence,

if it does not prove that these two names were, at that time,

great favourites in families proud of 'producing manslayers,

whether in the bodily or spiritual sphere' (Hengstenb., Bileam,

p. 22), teaches, at least, that MfAl;Bi was meant as identical with

flaB,, and that it was not taken as a compound of MfA, neither

as equivalent to MfA flaB, (see supra); nor much less to Mf hlb

(Aruch, sub voc.), denoting one ' who confounded ( lblbw )

Israel by his advice' (Rashi); nor to MfA xloB;, meaning 'one

who has no community whatever with the pious people of

Israel' or ' a leader or teacher with but a scanty number   

of followers' (Talm. Sanh. 105a, etc.); nor to MfA lBa 'non-

populus, peregrines' (Gesenius, Thesaurus, p. 210 ; compare

Aruch, 1.c , rHx Mfl jlhv vmfmv vmvqmm xcyw Mf xlb);

which, irrespective of the vowel in the first syllable, would

be almost unintelligible as elliptical expressions.  More-

94                                NUMBERS xxii. 2--4.


over, the town MfAl;Bi, in the eastern province of Manasseh

(1 Chron. vi. 55), bore also the name MfAl;b;yi, (Josh. xvii. 11;

Judges i. 27; 2 Kings ix. 27), from which it is evident that

MfAl;Bi was traced to flb, not to lb or lfb; this being one of

many instances of double proper nouns, one containing the

past, the other the future of the verb (comp. hyAnAB; and  hyAnAB;yi,

UhyAl;daG; and UhyAl;Dag;yi, etc.).--One additional remark we would,

in this place, make on Hebrew proper nouns. Some names

were so generally current and so familiar that it would have

been impossible to alter their form without causing material

confusion. In such cases, endeavours were made, etymologi-

cally or otherwise, to interpret the word in the desired sense.

To this category belongs the name bxAOm, which means properly

seed of the father' (for Om is a poetical term for water, Job

ix. 30, which is used for seed, Isa. xlviii. 1), that is, simply

the descendants of some great ancestor, who was kat ] e]coxh<n

called 'father;' but Hebrew historians of later times, ex-

plaining bxAmo by bxAme (e]k tou? patro<j), attributed to that name,

literally, the sense of 'offspring of the father,' and embodied

this view in a detailed story (Gen. xix. 32, 34; comp. Comm.

on Gen. p. 426).--Jewish authorities elucidate qlABA by xBA and

qlA, or lxrWy lw Nmd qvll xb ‘he came to lap (or suck) the

blood of the Israelites;' and the very same sense is attributed

to the name qlemAfE contended to be equivalent to MfA and qlA and

to mean lxrWy lw vmd qlw (see Baal Hatturim in loc.). This

one instance out of very many will illustrate that wonderful

flexibility of etymological explanation, to which we have

above referred; and we will only add that Patristic writers,

asserting Balaam to mean 'vain people,' and Balak' devourer,'

consider the one as the type of the Jewish scribes and Phari-

sees, and the other as the emblem of the implacable enemies of

the spiritual Israel (comp. Origen, In Num. Hom. xiv. 4, etc.).--

It seems natural to understand rOtP; (comp. Dent. xxiii. 5),

Balaam's home, as the town of ' interpretation of dreams'

(rtaPA, Gen. xl. 8, 16; xli. 8, etc.; Sam. Vers., hrvwp; Syr.,

xrvwp), in which art the seer, like perhaps some of his fellow-

citizens, may have been a great adept (comp. xxii. 8-12, 19,

20; Talm. Sanh. 106a; Yalkut, Balak, § 771; Targ. Jon., etc.);    

but this opinion has, of course, no claim to certainty; for the

                                    COUNCILS.                                       95


primary meaning of rtp is to open or to divide, which may

be very multifariously applied to a town (e.g., Gesen., Thes.,

p. 1141, after Midr. Tanchuma, 'fortasse id quod Chald.

xrAOtPA. mensa,' etc.). Some ancient versions (as Samar., Syr.,

Vulg.) take rOtP; not as a town, but as interpreter or sooth-

sayer', (see supra; Abu Said XXXX  ), against the context and

against Deut. 1.c.--rOPci is undoubtedly bird, like the feminine

hrAPoci the Midianite wife of Moses (Exod. ii. 21, etc.; comp.

the Midianite chief brefo, Raven, Judg. vii. 25, etc.).--The

Targum of Jonathan thus paraphrases the fifth verse: ‘And

Balak sent messengers to Laban the Aramaean, that is

Balaam, the son of Beor, who was eager to destroy the   

people (xm.Afa tya faOlb;mil;), the house of Israel; for he was

insane from the vastness of his knowledge, and had no com-

passion with Israel ... and the place of his abode was in

Padan, that is Pethor (rOtP;), meaning interpreter of dreams

( xy.Amal;H, rytiPA) and it was built in Aram on the river Euphrates,

where the people of his country worshipped him.' This

specimen sufficiently exemplifies both the bias and the con-

fusion of traditional explanation throughout this section

(see supra, pp. 29,30).--As regards the position of Pethor (Sept.

faqoura<), we must be content with the statement of the text,

that the town was situated on the Euphrates (ver. 5). More

than this we do not even learn from the Monolith Inscription

of Shalmaneser II. (B.C. 858-823), and from the remarkable

black Obelisk of the same king, both which monuments men-

tion, in the immediate vicinity of the Euphrates and the

river Irgamri or Saguri, which has not been identified, a town  

which the men of the Hittites' (i. e. the Syrians) 'have

called the city of Pi-it-ru or Pethor,' although from the  

latter record the town appears to have been in the highlands

of Mesopotamia (see Inscription of Shalm., col. ii. §§ 85, 86;

Black Obel., face C., lines 38-40, ' at my return into the low-

lands,' etc.; see Schrader, Keilinschriften and das A.T., p. 65;

Records of the Past, iii. 99 ; v. 31) Everything else is un-

certain tradition or conjecture; but the identity of that town

is, for the main object of our narrative, of little importance-

whether Pethor is traceable to Iaqou?sai, a place south of

96                                NUMBERS XXIL. 5-14.


Circesium (Zosimus iii. 4; Knob.), or to Rehoboth Ir (Gen.

x. 11; xxxvi. 37), or, after the Oscian petora (four), means  

a town built in the form of an oblong (Hitzig, Sprache ... der

Assyrier, p. 11). It seems, however, probable that Pethor was

one of the cities or districts which, according to an old Baby-

lonian custom similar to the appointment of priestly and leviti-

cal towns among the Hebrews, were set apart for the various

classes of philosophers, astronomers, and soothsayers, and

which formed the principal centres of their work and reputa-

tion (comp. Strabo, XVI. i. 6, p. 739: Plin. Nat. Hist. vi. 26

or 30, Hipparenum, Chaldaeorum doctrina et hoc sicut

Babylon; see also Cicer. De Divinat. i. 41, Telmessus in Caria

est, qua in urbe excellit haruspicum disciplina).


                        3. FIRST MESSAGE. XXIL. 5-14.


5. And he sent messengers to Balaam, the

son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the river

(Euphrates), to the land of the children of his

people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a

a people come out from Egypt; behold, they cover

the face of the earth, and they abide over against

me.  6. Come now, therefore, I pray thee, curse

me this people, for they are too mighty for me;

perhaps I shall prevail, that we may smite them,

and that I may drive them out of the land: for

I know that he whom thou blessest is blessed,

and he whom thou cursest is cursed.  7. And

the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian

departed with the rewards of divination in their

hand; and they came to Balaam, and spoke to

him the words of Balak.  8. And he said to

them, Stay here this night, and I will bring you

word, as the Lord shall speak to me. And the

princes of Moab remained with Balaam. 9. And

                        FIRST MESSAGE.                            97


God came to Balaam, and said, Who are these

men that are with thee?  10. And Balaam said

to God, Balak, the son of Zippor, king of Moab,

has sent to me, saying,  11. Behold, the people

that is come out of Egypt, it covers the face of

the earth; come now, curse me them; per-

haps I shall then be able to fight against them,

and drive them out.  12. And God said to

Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them, thou

shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed.

13. And Balaam rose in the morning, and said

to the princes of Balak, Go to your country, for

the Lord refuses to give me leave to go with

you. 14. And the princes of Moab rose, and

they went to Balak, and said, Balaam refuses to

come with us.


            The result of Moab's and Midian's common delibera-

tions was that, under the critical circumstances, nothing

better could be undertaken than to send a legation to the

famous diviner Balaam and to claim his powerful aid,

since even both nations united felt diffident in opposing

the large and victorious armies of the Hebrews. In

order to invest the embassy with a national character

and dignity, they dispatched, as official representatives,

the elders of both communities. Their utter helplessness

and perplexity are admirably conveyed in Balak's un-

certain and wavering message. He vaguely speaks of

‘a people that is come out of Egypt.’a  More than this he

fancies does not concern Balaam. He engages and pays

a soothsayer, and therefore thinks he may dispose of his

services at pleasure. To him the enchanter's will and

art alone have reality. Those against whom that art is


                        a xcAyA Mfa, ver. 5.

98                                NUMBERS XXII. 5-14


to be employed, have no share in his considerations. It

is enough that he desires to have them cursed; whether

they deserve to be cursed or not, appears to him in-

different. It would have been impossible to pourtray

more aptly paganism and its obtuse blindness. How

infinitely superior to such a state of mind is even the

rigid doctrine of retribution, which caused the Hebrews

to see so deep and intrinsic a connection between man's

deeds and his fate, that they were certain that the

Canaanites though destined to destruction could not be

exterminated until the measure of their sins was full.a

Balak might well have assumed that so well-informed a

man as Balaam had heard of the Hebrews and their long

wanderings in the desert, if not of their memorable

deliverance from foreign bondage. That Balaam was

really acquainted with these events, is clear from his own

words. For in repeating to God the commission he had

received he said ‘Behold the people that is come out of

Egypt.’b  To Balak the Hebrews were merely hostile

hordes dangerous to himself; but to Balaam they were

the one renowned people of Jahveh, who had singled

them out for His special protection and had hitherto led

them so miraculously.c  By the slightest modifications,

the author's skill fixed the strongest contrasts.--Almost

incoherently, the king further sends word to the seer that

the Hebrews were filling the whole land; that they were

encamped in his close proximity; Balaam was to come

and curse the swarming multitudes; ‘perhaps,’ he con-

tinues, ‘I shall prevail that we may smite them, and that

I may drive them out of the land; for I know that he

whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest

is cursed.’d Hesitation and assurance, despondency and

reckless courage, struggle in his uneasy and foreboding

mind. He is conscious of taking refuge in an uncommon


a Gen. xv. 16, and Comm. in loc.                  c Comp. xxiii. 22; xxiv. 8; see

b xcey.oha MfAhA, ver. 11.                                   supra, p. 14.        d Ver. 6.

                        FIRST MESSAGE.                            99


and desperate device, and his words cling to hopes in

which his heart scarcely believes. But the soothsayer

must come to Moab; it would be of no avail if he pro-     

nounced the curse in his Mesopotamian home; he must

behold those whom he attempts to annihilate by the

power of his incantations; and Balak is eager to hear

himself those welcome words which are to inspire him

and his people with new strength. Does Balaain attach

the same weight to his personal presence? Does he also

believe that the eye, whether it be the good or the evil

eye, must be fixed upon those who are effectually to be

blessed or cursed? This the narrative leaves in uncer-

tainty, because it represents Balaam in perfect and

almost passive repose. But so much is undoubted, that

all arrangements and directions referring to that point

do not proceed from him, but from the king of Moab,

who, in his restless anxiety, is unwilling to neglect any

form or ceremony deemed desirable by the most scrupu-

lous belief of his nation and his time.

            Is it necessary to accumulate proofs of the faith of the

ancient world in the real power of blessings and curses?

The whole Bible, all classical and non-classical literature,

proclaim it. Extraordinary men, such as prophets, and

ordinary men in uncommon moments, such as the ap-

proach of death, were supposed to be seized by the

divine spirit, and so far uplifted beyond the usual measure

of human power and intelligence, that, consciously or

unconsciously, they reveal the decrees of Providence,    

nay, are able to direct and change them, and, by the,

force of their holy zeal and fervour, to transform the      

word into an unerring deed. When little children, fail-

ing to honour the prophet in the ‘bald head,’ mocked

Elisha, 'he cursed them in the name of the Lord,' and

forthwith two bears came out of the wood and tore

forty-two of the children;a and when Theseus believed


            a 2 Ki. ii. 23, 24.

100                 NUMBERS XXII 5-14.


he had reason for well-founded suspicion against his son,

and wrathfully cursed him in the name of domestic

honour and purity, the curse was fulfilled even upon the

innocent youth, and no prayer and no repentance of the

agonised father were able to avert or undo it.a Such an

ardent conviction of the participation of human enthu-

siasm in the counsels of heaven, is well compatible even

with a high degree of truly religious feeling; but of such

a depth of conviction Balak was wholly incapable. He

believed he could ‘hire’ a prophet and bid him speak,

not as his god suggested, but as he, the terror-stricken

king, desired. Therefore, he did not omit to send to

Balaam ‘rewards of divination,’b probably rich and ample

wages, as he considered that the more liberally he paid,

the more powerful was the curse he could command.c

            It may be allowable to dwell one moment longer on

this point. How superficially the effect of cursing was

viewed by the Hebrews, even in later times, is indeed

sufficiently clear from their belief in 'day-cursers,' en-

dowed with the gift of blotting out, or devoting to eternal

oblivion, certain days or seasons of disaster and mourning;

but it is most strikingly apparent from the remarkable

ritual of the ‘Offering of Jealousy:’ the curse was written

on a scroll, which was then dipped in the ‘bitter water;’

this water, bodily saturated, as it were, with the words of

the curse, was drunk by the suspected woman, and it was

firmly expected that if she was guilty, the water ‘would

make her womb to swell and her thigh to rot.’e  Can it,

therefore, be surprising that heathen nations hardly set

bounds to the possible effects of spells and charms?


a Compare Hor. Od. IV. vii. 25,                    Lev. i. pp. 282-289; ii. p. 596; comp.

Infernis neque enim tenebris Diana Gen. ix. 25-27; xxvii. 4, 12, 27-29,

pudicum Liberat Hippolytum, etc.               39, 40; xlviii. 9, 15, 16, 20; xlix.

b MymisAq;, ver. 7.                                             2-27; Num. vi. 24-27; Deut. xi.

c See infra.                                                     29; xxvii. 12-26; xxxiii. 1-25;

d Mvy yrrx, Job iii. 8.                                   Josh. vi. 26 and 1 Ki. xvi. 34;

e Num. v. 11-29, and Comm. on                   Matth. xxi. 19.

                        FIRST MESSAGE.                            101


Plato speaks of certain itinerant priests and prophetsa

frequenting the houses of the rich, and persuading them

that they possess a power granted by the gods of

expiating by incantationsb all sins and crimes committed

by any living person or by his forefathers, and of blasting

any foe, whether he was guilty or not, by blandishments

and magic ties.c When Alcibiades, after profaning the

Eleusinian mysteries, had been condemned in his absence

and punished with the confiscation of his property, the

people ordered him, besides, 'to be execrated by all priests

and priestesses,' which occasion was rendered still more

memorable by the priestess Theano, who refused to com-

ply with the command, contending that she was ‘a

priestess of blessings, not of curses.’d

            In the Roman twelve tables penalties are enacted

against any one ‘who shall have enchanted the harvest,’

or ‘shall have used evil incantations’ generally;e for

‘there was no one who did not dread being spell-bound

by means of malignant imprecations.'f The Romans

preserved some old and secret forms of execration, the

awful power of which was believed to destroy not only

those against whom, but even those by whom they were

pronounced, and which, therefore, were only employed

in the most uncommon emergencies. Such an occasion

was the contemplated departure of M. Crassus to Syria

(B.C. 55), with the intention of waging war against the

Parthians; the tribunes of the people strongly dis-

approved of the plan, and when Crassus still insisted

upon its execution, they ‘uttered against him public

imprecations,’ using fearful and terrible spells and menaces

--after which the historians record, without surprise and


a   ]Agu<rtai and me<nteij.                                        Lysias, Adv. Andocid. 51; Xen.

b   ]Ep&dai?j.                                                              Mem. II. vi. 10.

c   ]Epagwgai?j kai> katade<smoij;                       e Qui fruges encantassit; qui

Plat. Republ. ii. 7, p. 364.                                        malum carmen incantassit.

d Eu]xw?n, ou] katarw?n i[e<reian ge-                       f Defigi quidem diris precationi-

gone<neai Plut. Alcib. c. 22; comp.                         bus nemo non metuit.

102                             NUMBERS XXII. 5-14.


as a natural result, that Crassus perished in Parthia with

his son and nearly the whole of his army. Indeed it

was firmly believed, as Pliny attests, that ‘words can

change’ the destinies of great empires. But their

remarkable efficacy was considered to appear in various

other ways. Imprecations pronounced during a sacrifice

‘have caused the victim's liver or heart suddenly to

vanish or to be doubled.’ By the incantations of Vestal

virgins the flight of runaway slaves, who had not passed

beyond the precincts of the town, was supposed to be

arrested. Spells were held to control and rule the very

elements and all nature, to induce rain and to repel it, to

draw down the moon and the stars from the skies and to

direct the winds, to check the movements of serpents

and to make them burst asunder, to avert hail-showers

and to conjure up thunderstorms. This is reported to

have been achieved by Lars Porsena and other Etruscans,

but by no one more frequently and successfully than by

King Numa; while Tullus Hostilius, imitating him, but

not performing the ceremonies in due form, was killed

by the lightning. From that belief Jupiter bore the

standing epithet of Elicius.a But it is right to add, on

the authority of Pliny, that ‘the wisest persons’ rejected

all such beliefs; that every one was permitted to look

upon these matters in whatever light he pleased; and,

what is of greater importance, that 'it was an accepted

maxim in the doctrines of divination, that neither curses

nor any other auspices had the least effect upon those

who, before entering upon an enterprise, declared that

they paid no attention to them.’b


a I. e. precationibus coelo elicien-               though the elaborate and remarkable

dus.                                                                 formula there preserved contains

b Comp. Plin. Natur. list. II. 53                    prayers, rather than curses); Plut.

or 54; xxviii. 2 or 3-5; Tacit. Ann.               Crass. c. 16; Appian, Bell. Civ. ii.

xiv. 30, Druidaeque circum, preces 18; Seneca, Nat. Quaest. iv. 7; Virg.

diras sublatis ad caelum manibus                 Ecl. viii. 69-71, Carmina vel ecelo

fundentes, etc.; Macrob. iii. 9 (al-               possunt deducere Lunam... Frigidus

                        FIRST MESSAGE.                            103


            The ambassadors arrive in Pethor and deliver their

message to Balaam. Do we see him share or drawn

into the eagerness and unrest of the troubled monarch?

From the moment that the narrative reaches Balaam, it

seems to breathe a more serene tranquillity and a higher

purity. In the first place, never again is any mention

made of ‘wages of divination.’ Gold and worldly

honours are of no account in the eyes of the prophet,

who serves his god alone. And who is this god? Is he

one of the many idols of Balak? He is the one and sole

God of the Hebrews, Jahveh the Unchangeable, the

Eternal. It is vain to ask how Balaam gained the

knowledge of this God. The strange answers which

this question has called forth ought alone to have sufficed

to show the impropriety of the question. In order to

attain, it is asserted, greater proficiency in soothsaying,

which he practised as a trade or profession for the grati-

fication of his chief passions of ambition and avarice, he

carefully enquired into the traditions and the history of

other nations besides his own. In this manner he heard    

some faint echoes of the convictions left from ‘the primi-

tive age of monotheism;’ he also heard some distinct

whispers of the patriarchal revelations that lingered in

Mesopotamia through Abraham and through Jacob's long

sojourn with Laban; and, what was of the greatest

moment to him, he listened to the reports of the recent

miracles of Egypt and the manifestations on Sinai, since

the lands of the Euphrates and the Nile were, from


in pratis cantando rumpitur anguis;  coelo deripit ; xvii. 4, 77, 78; Prop.

Ovid, Metam. vii. 201-209, Stantia             I. i. 19, At vos, deductae quibus est

concutio cantu freta, nubila pello...             fallacia Lunae, etc.; Tibull. I. viii.

ventos abigoque vocoque, Vipereas             17-22, Cantus vicinis fruges tradu-

rumpo verbis et carmine fauces, etc.;          cit ab agris, Cantus et iratae detinet

Fast. iii. 327, 328, Eliciunt caelo te,           anguis iter, etc.; Val. Flace. Argon.

Juppiter, unde minores Nunc quo-   viii. 351, 352, Fallor, an hos nobis

quo to celebrant Eliciumque vocant;           magico nunc carmine ventos Ipsa

Hor. Epod. v. 45, Quae sidera ex-                movet, diraque levat maria ardua

cantata voce Thessala Lunamque                 lingua? etc.

104                             NUMBERS XXII. 5-14.


early times, closely joined by commercial intercourse.

Thus, for his own interest and advantage, and ‘in the

hope that he might by these means be able to par-

ticipate in the new powers granted to the human race,’

he was induced to devote himself to the service of

Jaliveh, 'to call Him his god and to prophesy in His

name,' without, however, fully comprehending or honestly

following Him--similar to the Jewish exorcists, who, in

later times, drove out demons in Christ's name without

believing in him;a and similar especially to Simon the

sorcerer, ‘Balaam's New Testament anti-type,’ who, dis-

satisfied with the previous emoluments of his art, and

attracted by the signs and miracles of his time, from

which he hoped to derive greater profit, believed and

was baptised, though his heart had no share in his faith.b

With what semblance of historical accuracy does preju-

dice often clothe the most unhistorical fancies! Balaam

knows and worships Jahveh, simply because the high-

minded minded author of this wonderful narrative attributes to

him that knowledge and worship. Balaam is a prophet

of the true God because the historian is a prophet of the

true God, and considers Hebrew and Gentile worthy of

the same privilege. It is only in the light of free and con-

summate art that this portion can be duly appreciated.

It has the highest probability--not that of fact and

history, but of poetry; it does not reveal to us the

Mesopotamian Balaam, but, what is of much deeper

interest to us, one of the greatest seers of Israel in the

fresh and vigorous time of David. Instances are quoted

from patristic writers, ascribing to certain Magi and

Chaldeans ‘the knowledge of God and His angels;’c but

they form no parallels to our narrative. It is one thing

to regard pagans capable of single glimpses and isolated


a Mark ix. 38, 39; Acts xix. 13.        Munue. Felix, Octav. 26: Justin,

b Acts viii. 9-13, 18-24.                    Cohort. ad Gent. xi. 24; see Knobel,

c Cyprian, De Vanit. Idol. 4;            Numeri, p. 131.

                        FIRST MESSAGE.                            105


rays of truth; and another to identify them entirely

and cheerfully with the holy proclaimers of the Divine


            Balaam is in familiar intercourse with God. He asks

for His directions and is sure of His reply, whether by

night in dreams, or by day in clear visions. He has

wholly merged his own will in that of his heavenly

Master. He enquires without eagerness and listens

without anxiety, because he trusts in His wisdom with

unquestioning devotion. Thus he invites Balak's mes-

sengers to stay over night, and promises to communicate

to them, the next morning, the Lord's decision, which in-

volves his own. This does not refer, as has been supposed,

to the heathen custom of incubatio or sleeping in temples,a

but to a revelation in dream, such as the favoured men

among the Hebrews likewise expected and prized.b God

appears, as Balaam had foreseen. With epical breadth and

calmness He is made to ask the prophet, ‘Who are these

men that are with thee?’c although He, the Omniscient,

had no need to ask. For the narrative proceeds in that

even flow which, in the midst of motion, preserves

repose, and in repose presses onward, and which, like

the verse of Homer, never hurries yet never pauses.

Balaam's answer is clear and explicit. It is designedly

an almost literal reproduction of Balak's request, but

with two significant modifications. One, already alluded

to above, concerns the well-known people that has come

out of Egypt;d the other is the omission of the king's

declaration with respect to Balaam, ‘for I know that he

whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest

is cursed.’e These words would, in Balaam's mouth, not

only sound like self-praise, but would be particularly


a The e]gkoi<mhsij of the Greeks;                            me<nontej dh<lwsin o]nei<ratoj.

comp. Herod. viii. 134; Plut. Arist.                        b See supra, p. 16.

c. 19; Strab., pp. 508, 761; Diod.                            c Ver. 9.

Sic. i. 63; Pausan. I. xxxiv. 5,                                  d MfAhA, ver. 11, pp. 97, 98.

krio>n qu<santej ... kaqeu<dousin a]na-  e Ver. 6.

106                             NUMBERS XXII. 5-14.


unsuitable on account of his profound consciousness that

it is not he who blesses or curses, but God through him,

and that he is nothing but His human instrument. Most

frequently has the reproach of vain arrogance been

raised against Balaam; but in the simplest and most

efficient manner the author would seem to have rendered

the reproach impossible. Three times has Balaam to

deliver Divine oracles, in reference to which the follow-

ing gradation may be observed. The first time he says

to Balak, ‘I will go, perhaps the Lord will come to meet

me:’a free from giddy confidence or self-assurance, he,

who had already been favoured with many revelations,b

is represented as the wise man ‘that feareth always,’ and

‘who is doubtful whether the Divine communication will

be granted to him in the desired form and at the ex-

pected moment. The second time he says, more decided-

‘I go to meet the Lord;’c while the third time only

he deems it unnecessary to solicit special suggestions.d

Even in the most subordinate points, the author's skill

and thoughtfulness are manifest.

            God's answer to Balaam, short and simple as it is,

leads us with a single step to the very kernel and

marrow of the composition. Balaam was not to go with

the messengers to curse the people of Israel, ‘because they

are biessed.’e Thus the aged Isaac, even after having

learnt the cunning and fraud by which Jacob had

obtained the blessing, still exclaims, 'He shall certainly  

be blessed;'f but he does so in excitement and agitation,

uttering the words almost unconsciously, and impelled

by God's secret power; while here God Himself speaks,

with quiet emphasis, as the Lord of all nations and their

destinies. There, a blessing that had been pronounced

is to be sealed as irrevocable; here, an eagerly desired


a ylaUx, xxiii. 3.                                              d xxiv. 1.

b xxii. 9, 20.                                                    e Ver. 12, xUh j`UrbA yKi

c xxiii. 15.                                                       f hy,h;yi j`UrBA MGa Gen. xxvii. 33.

                        FIRST MESSAGE.                                        107


curse is to be averted. And yet the chief and inner-

most idea of both narratives is precisely the same.

Israel is blessed by God, whatever men may intend

against them. All are compelled to bestow upon the

chosen nation their most fervent benedictions, and are

supernaturally restrained from uttering imprecations; if,

in reckless defiance, anyone dares to execrate, the curse,

changed into a blessing for Israel, falls destructively

upon himself.a Will, in this instance, Israel's enemies,

once warned, desist from such defiance? Will they

persevere in it? The stirring plot is laid for a grand

drama, in which royal contumacy is opposed to Divine

wisdom and power: how will the design be developed?

No worthier or more suitable link between the two

chief actors--God and Balak--could be conceived than

Balaam, who, whatever might have been his human

sympathies, absolutely suppressed them in order to

remain absolutely and impartially ‘the mouth’ of God.

Thus he declared to the messengers, with resolute calm-

ness, that he would not accompany them to Moab; nor

did he conceal from them that he was solely bound by

the commands of Jahveh, the God of the very people

he was summoned to imprecate.b But why did he not

communicate to the envoys God's whole reply? He in-

deed hinted that he could not curse Israel, for the refusal

of the journey involved the refusal of the curse. But

why did he suppress the reason which God assigned for

that refusal, ‘for they are blessed’? He suppressed it

because the messengers and their master would not have

understood the depth of its import, but would have

taken it merely as an irritating aggravation of the

denial. This is proved by the conduct of the messengers

themselves; for these, evidently unable to comprehend

the terrible scope of the new complication, or, in their   

dark forebodings, purposely ignoring it, brought back to


            a xxiv. 9; Gen. xxvii. 29.                    b Vers. 8, 13. 

108                             NUMBERS XXII. 5-14.


the king not even Balaam's curtailed answer in his

proper words, ‘the Lord refuses to give me leave to go

with you;’ but, as if it were simply a human and personal

resolve, which a caprice had prompted and a caprice

might change, they gave the reply in the bare terms,

'Balaam refuses to come with us.'a


PHILOLOGICAL REMARKS.--It is incredible how many

strange and fanciful interpretations have been forced even

upon these verses of plain narrative. As might be expected,

the largest conclusions in disparagement of Balaam have

been drawn from the word MymisAq; (ver. 7), which indeed re-

quires some illustration. It would be erroneous to infer from

its use in this place, that the author shared the view of Deu-

teronomy and the Book of Joshua with respect to Balaam as

sorcerer (see supra, pp. 6, 7). It is true that the verb MsaqA and

its derivative nouns (Ms,q,, MsAq;mi) are frequently, perhaps

chiefly, used in a bad sense. But an accurate comparison of

all passages teaches, first, that they are not unfrequently em-

ployed in reference to true prophecy also; and, secondly,

that this good meaning is the older, the bad meaning the

later one. For in an evil sense they are unquestionably

used in the following passages: Deut. xvii. 10, 14 (Mymsq Msvq,

prohibited as a heathen abomination together with Nnvfm,

wHnm and JwHm; comp. Jer. xxvii. 9); 1 Sam. vi. 2 (the

Mymsvq of the Philistines, mentioned by the side of their

priests); xv. 23 (Msq txFH); xxviii. 8 (Saul, after having

consulted God in vain, requests the witch of Endor yl xn ymis;qA);

2 Ki. xvii.:17 (where Msq) is included in, the heavy sins, on

account of which Israel was punished with exile); Isa. xliv.

25 (Mymis;Oq, coupled with MyDiBa, lying prophets); Jer. xiv. 14  

(Ms,q,, in conjunction with rqw, lylx, and tymrt); Ezek. xiii.

6, 7; xxii. 28 (pregnant phrases bzAKA MsaqA, bzAKA Ms,q,, bzAKA Msaq;mi);

xiii. 23 (Ms,q, in parallelism with xv;wA); xxi. 26 (Ms,q, MsaqA in-

cluded in the various forms of magic customary in Babylon,

as divining by shaking arrows inspecting the liver, etc.). It

will be observed, that none of these passages reach back


a Vers. 113, 14. About the situation of Pethor, see supra, p. 95.

                                    FIRST MESSAGE.                            109


farther than the seventh century. On the other hand, Msq is

used in a good sense by the first Zechariah (the author of

Chap. ix.-xi., about B.C. 750, who, in x. 2, names Mymsvq to-  

gether with Myprt and tvmlH, as legitimate counsellors), by

Isaiah (iii. 2, where the Msvq is, besides Nqzv xybnv Fpvw, a

principal and valued support of the land; that it is meant as

a contrast to the latter terms, as has been asserted, is in no

way intimated), by Micah (iii. 6, 7, 11, where Msoq; is clearly

parallel with NOzHA, and MseOq with hz,Ho, through whom ‘an

answer of God,' Myhlx hnfm, may be expected, and where it is

said of the prophets of Judah, that they vmsqy in reliance

upon Jahveh), and in one of the earlier Proverbs (xvi. 10,

which enjoins, 'Ms,q, shall be on the lips of the king, and his

mouth shall not do wrong in judgment'). This use of the

word in a favourable meaning was maintained, in later times,

even after the reproachful sense had gained ground; it is thus

found in Jeremiah (xxix. 8, Mymsvq, by the side of tvmlH and

of Myxybn, who prophesy in Jahveh's name, though falsely and

without a mission), and especially in Ezekiel (xii. 24; xiii. 9;

xxi. 34). Therefore, whatever date may be attributed to this

section, the word MymisAq; does not necessarily imply anything

derogatory to Balaam; it might have such a signification, if

the tenour of the narrative favoured it; but, as we have shown,

the very opposite is the case (see supra, pp. 17-21). More-

over, it is Balak who forwards, not Balaam who demands, the

Mymsq, which are never again mentioned in the whole account.